BOOKS IN INDIA
India in fiction. Vernacular prayer books. Indian letters. Indian advertisements. Mistaken method of education. Slang expressions. Swearing. Indians possess few books. Want of respect for books. Cheapness of Christian books. Indian printing and binding.
There are a few writers of fiction who depict Indian native life and talk faithfully. But many readers get an entirely false idea of India and its people from certain popular novels, which are supposed to paint a true picture, but in which the description even of cities, and villages, and scenery are often as unlike the reality as the circumstances and conversations. Indian people talk much in the same way as ordinary folk in other parts of the world, except that unseemly allusions are freely admitted into general conversation in a way which would not be tolerated in a Christian country. The absurd, high-flown conversational rhapsodies in the average Anglo-Indian novel are purely imaginary. "Kim's" talk fairly represents the ordinary talk of the Indian, although he was not one himself.
A missionary, newly arrived in the country, asked whether the Prayer Book, translated into the vernacular, suited the Indian people, or whether its sober language failed to satisfy the Easterns' desire for rhapsody. But the high flights such as he had in mind are only to be found in novels. People often speak of the Prayer Book as if it was a modern compilation of purely Western origin, and they seem to forget that it is teeming with ancient Eastern thought. It is an instance of its Catholicity that it supplies the needs of all nations. When carefully translated, many of the people of the East make more use of it than some good Christians do in England. Even rustic Indians use it intelligently and with great appreciation, and it forms their chief manual of private devotion. Indian children soon learn to follow the various services which it contains with happiness and profit. Many of them have made themselves quite familiar with the whole book from often studying it.
Innumerable examples have been published of the astonishing letters addressed by Indians to Government officials and others. They are astonishing, both in the nature of the requests made and the English in which their wants are expressed. Some people suppose that the examples published cannot be really authentic, or are greatly exaggerated. Those who are familiar with some of the originals know that exaggeration is impossible, because no feigned composition could beat the reality. Here is a letter, copied word for word, which a Hindu wrote and brought to me, asking me to correct it:—"To Colonel,——. Sir, my eldest son has been suffering since last year from Morbid heat of skin that is bone fever for which he had Quinine Arsenic and chiretta, but without effect of recovery, he is gradually getting day by day weaker, and we have had 'chit chat' at your quarters for granting to my son an appointment as clerk in your office, please try your best and grant him one, for which act of kindness I shall ever pray for your long life and prosperity. Most probably I shall see you during the Christmas Holidays. An early reply will be greatly oblige, I remain Sir yours faithful and most respectful servant Bulwant."
Indian tradesmen in their advertisements often promise to pray for those who become their customers. Here is a quotation from an English leaflet, put out by a bookbinder in our neighbourhood:—"Rates and charges for different sorts of binding and gold work will be settled by the undersigned and the party and the undersigned will ever pray for him, who will call him up by a Post Card." The comicalities to be found in shop signboards in the English language are endless.
But though comical examples of the misapplication of language have been published to weariness, and the bombastic compositions of educated Indian students held up to ridicule, the fault does not lie with the pupil but with ourselves, who are ultimately responsible for the subjects which are set him to learn. So long as he is made to read books in antiquated English, he will naturally suppose that the flowery and bombastic language of Addison in the Spectator, or of Dr. Johnson, is the style which he ought to imitate when he writes a letter. Nor is it possible for him to discriminate, in what is to him a foreign language, between what is antiquated and out of date, and what is mere modern slang, and so he sometimes combines the two styles in his compositions with startling effect.
It would seem to be more rational to give him the best modern authors to study while he is still a learner, and to leave it to him to dive into the recesses of English literature, if he is so inclined, after he has ceased to be a pupil. Students bring their books of selections from English authors to the missionary, and ask him to clear up their difficulties. But a long and involved paragraph, with several obsolete words and obscure satire, is a tangle which it is almost hopeless to unravel satisfactorily, when you are dealing with a language so unlike in construction and modes of expression to that of the learner. Nor are some of the allusions in the selected passages particularly edifying to the Hindu mind, ready to scent evil even where it does not exist. And they tempt him to buy cheap reprints of the literature of the past, in the hope that he will find matter congenial to a mind easily attracted to that which is pernicious.
Indian students are sometimes asked in their examinations to explain out-of-the-way or obsolete expressions which are little better than slang. As a result of this, students when speaking English will introduce some of these expressions into their talk, thinking that by so doing they show their familiarity with the language. When they try to embellish serious sentences in this way the result is sometimes remarkable. They will also repeat words, never heard in polite society, under the idea that they are in common use. Now and then students swear freely, supposing that all Englishmen do so. When taking shelter from the midday sun at a roadside police station—only a little hut a few feet square—I listened to the Mohammedan policeman as he talked to a beggar, who was exhibiting the contents of his bundle in order to show that he had not got any stolen goods. The policeman was talking in Marathi, but presently I noticed that at intervals a short word occurred, which sounded like what is popularly regarded as being essentially the Englishman's oath. I soon discovered that such was really the case, and that the policeman was adorning his talk with the word which he had heard Englishmen use when they wanted to give force to their orders. He was, of course, quite ignorant of its meaning, but it was unfortunate that the only English word which he knew, and which he evidently used constantly, should be of such a nature.
Few Indians possess any number of books, either in their own language or in English. The lesson books they may have used at school or college gradually get dispersed. Even in the houses of educated people little provision in the shape of bookcases is to be found. A recess in the wall may contain a shelf or two on which a few books are placed in disorderly array, but they are seldom read. Even those who read books take little pleasure in their outward appearance, and the binding is to them nothing more than a necessary protection to the book inside it. Some wealthy Indian, following to some extent Western fashions in his house, may have in his reception-room the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and a library edition of Dickens, elaborately bound. But they are rarely opened and only form part of the decorative furniture of the room, and stand a poor chance of notice in competition with the big gramophone which, nowadays, is to be found in many well-to-do Eastern households.
Indians have yet to learn to treat books with the respect which is instinctive amongst people of refinement in most European countries. To see a book rudely treated, or knocked about, is almost as distressing to many people as if it was an object sensitive to pain. But a book in the hands of even a cultivated Indian is almost sure to suffer. If it is a new book, he will open it vigorously, and bend it back as far as it will go, in order to make it open properly. Its broken back is the permanent memento of the treatment it has received. Even Christian Indians are slow to learn the outward respect due to their religious books. Their prayer books and hymn books, more often than not, soon go to pieces for want of reasonable care, although women are much more careful than men. Want of appreciation of the value of a book may partly arise from the fact that nearly all the books which Christians use have been sold to them under cost price, through the help of societies. Bible societies issue copies of the Scriptures at extraordinarily cheap rates, so that they may come within the reach of everybody, however poor. Vernacular prayer books are generally sold at a cost much below that of their production. This was inevitable in early days when Christians were few in number, and often poor. But it has left the impression that a book is a thing of little value, easily replaced.
A Brahmin seeing a book on India on my table which he thought he would like to have, asked the price. On hearing that it was seven or eight shillings, he lifted up his hands in dismay and said, "The price is prohibitive. Write and tell Messrs Murray & Co."
At one time it was almost impossible to get good printing done in India, although many people professed to be printers. Of late years there has been a great change in this respect, and some of the presses produce beautiful vernacular work, and soon their English printing will leave little to be desired. Bookbinding also shows sufficient promise to indicate that first-rate results would be forthcoming if there was more demand for it. Some of the more enterprising newspaper proprietors are issuing festal numbers of their publication in imitation of our Christmas numbers, and though they are in substance rather a sad parody of even our own publications in which the true meaning of Christmas often has so little place, the manner of their production is sufficiently artistic to show that India will be quite capable of producing her own real Christmas number when the happy day dawns when she is found demanding it.
Processions. Marriage ceremonies. People take little notice. Funeral processions. Military display. Eagerness to see the King. Military ardour of Christian boys. Hindu procession diverted into the Church. Embarrassing result. Problems of worship. Religious dancing. Father Benson's "War-Songs."
It is commonly imagined that we in India live in a perpetual state of pageant, and that the Indian is constantly occupied with brilliant display and stately processions, and that he cannot be happy without them. In reality, most Indian processions are of a tawdry character, somewhat of the nature of, but not nearly so imposing, as that of an average circus in England. Nor as a rule do these processions excite much interest, except amongst those who are actually taking part in them, and even their interest is often languid.
The chief processions are in connection with marriages, and rich men spend a great deal of money on that part of the ceremonial. Bands, and horses, and carriages, and bands of artificial flowers borne on the heads of women, and surrounding the bridegroom as he rides on horseback, large fans of peacocks' feathers waving round him to keep off evil influences and imaginary flies, torches at night, now supplanted by modern incandescent lamps carried on men's heads, displays of fireworks, and the exploding of harmless bombs—processions such as these abound in Indian towns, and in a simpler form in villages, at seasons which have been declared propitious for weddings. Some of these cavalcades are attended by a multitude of people whose chief concern in the matter probably centres in the feast which is to follow.
But even the most magnificent procession hardly excites the faintest curiosity amongst the people of the streets along which it passes. The shopkeeper does not rise from the pillows on the floor of his little shop on which he is dozing; the brass-worker or silversmith will scarcely lift up his eyes from his work; the women will hardly come even to their house-door to look; the little boys busy playing marbles down some side street are too much absorbed in their game to run and see the show. This is a curious contrast to the rapidity with which a crowd will gather on the smallest provocation in a European city. Even a hearse, standing at a house-door in England, will draw a very respectable crowd, merely in order to see the door open and the coffin brought out. A funeral procession in India is of much greater possible interest, because most Hindus are carried to the place of burning, or burial, as the case may be, on a flat bamboo litter with the face visible, so that you have the opportunity of recognising, or not, the face of a friend in the passing corpse. Yet few use the opportunity, and the sight does not appear to excite the slightest curiosity. Nobody bestows any tokens of respect on the funeral procession, and scarcely anybody gives it even a passing glance. This does not apparently arise from superstitious shrinking from the sight of a corpse.
Military display does not impress the ordinary Indian. When a governor drives in state to hold a levee he is attended by a brilliant retinue, and the Indian soldiers who form the chief part of his bodyguard are picked men, looking magnificent in their superb uniform. This imposing display is meant presumably to impress the native mind with the dignity and authority of the representative of the ruling monarch. But in reality it does not excite admiration, or interest, or any other sentiment. The glittering cavalcade, which would bring out half London to see it if only they had the opportunity, passes on its way, and the chance passers-by hardly pause to look at it. This is not out of disrespect to the powers that be, but merely because they see nothing to interest or admire. The small body of the disaffected, of course, look upon military display as part of the arrogance of the conqueror towards his subjects. The multitudes who thronged the streets of the great cities which the King visited, came together because they wanted to see the King himself, and they would have been just as pleased, and perhaps even more so, if he had ridden through the streets in solitary majesty without any retinue. Some natives complained that amongst the many English officers in gorgeous uniform it was not always possible to distinguish for certain which was the King.
Not unfrequently large bodies of troops come past the Mission compound in Yerandawana village on their way to the hilly country beyond, which provides an ideal area for military tactics. The boys of the Mission, through education and drill, and contact with Englishmen, are filled with military ardour, and are worked up to a pitch of intense excitement by the sight of guns, and mules, and baggage-waggons, and marching soldiers, and they spend every spare minute by the roadside. But to the Hindu villagers it means nothing at all. Perhaps one or two of the village boys who are attending the day-school will catch a spark of enthusiasm from the Christian boys, and will join them by the roadside; but the majority of the villagers will hardly turn their heads, much less walk ten yards, to see the sight. Religious processions to some sacred place or shrine are sometimes impressive from the enormous number of pilgrims taking part in them. One day a large procession of Hindus from a neighbouring village, on their way to the temple at Yerandawana, passed alongside the Mission compound. They had with them a god, which they were carrying in a palanquin. One or two boys, seeing me standing at the church door, called out to know whether I had any pictures to give away. I invited them instead to come and see the church, and several boys left following the palanquin and came towards me. The crowd seeing this, and moved with curiosity, did the same, and in a few minutes the greater part of the procession was diverted into the church. The result of this was the unusual sight of the church crammed to the doors with eager Hindus in holiday attire, and it gave an idea of what will be its aspect on some great festival, after the conversion of the village has become an accomplished fact.
The situation, however, soon became embarrassing. The Hindus appeared rather pleased with their surroundings. Some of them had got with them the heavy brass cymbals which they clash as a musical accompaniment in their religious processions. They began to sound their cymbals and to dance in the slow, sedate way, which they do in their temples on festal occasions, or when having an outdoor procession. Meanwhile the directors of the ceremonies had grasped the situation, and setting down the palanquin hurried into church, and expressing their indignation by words and blows, endeavoured to drive out the crowd. But as the church has nineteen large double doors this was no easy matter, because as fast as they were driven out at one door they came in at another. At length the church was cleared, and the much disorganised procession went on its way. On its return, after an hour or so, a good many Hindus again visited the church, in order to get a better view of it than they had been able to secure amidst the crowd.
The sight of the people, solemnly dancing and clashing their cymbals in the church, set one thinking as to the difficulties and problems which the conversion of the villagers will give rise to. It is purgatory to an Indian to sit still for any length of time. Outdoor preachers have to adapt themselves to a congregation which is continually changing. Very few can keep their attention for ten minutes. An ordinary Evensong, with little variety of posture, is a dreary exercise for a Hindu, and if he comes he seldom sits it out to the end. The Christian Indian gets accustomed to it and learns to appreciate it, but he rejoices in a procession, or in any ceremonial which involves motion. If the solemn dance and clashing of cymbals during the Magnificat could be allowed, the rustic Indian would enjoy Evensong.
Father Benson, in his "War-Songs of the Prince of Peace," thus happily translates the fourth verse of Psalm 150—"Praise Him with timbrels tost in timely dance." And that is what the Christian Indian would delight to do.
THE INDIAN CHARACTER
Erroneous notions about India. The Indian nature shallow. The Indian as a student. Unfinished projects. Untidiness. Waste of time. Petty vanity. Quiet obstinacy. How to govern. Training of the Indian boy. Punishment. Patience. Rulers of the "Lawrence" school. Their success. The Declaration at Delhi. Unexpected contradictions of character.
Some of the perplexities of missionaries in India, and also probably of Civil servants in the Indian Government, arise from preconceived notions about the country and people which are either only partly true, or are altogether erroneous. It takes years of growing experiences before things gradually assume their proper proportions in the mind.
The generally accepted idea that Indians have a depth of intellect which it is almost impossible to fathom, is one of the most fruitful causes of mistakes in government, whether within the comparatively narrow limits of a Mission area, or when dealing with affairs which concern the whole country. An extensive and varied experience amongst Hindus of almost every class and age has led to the conviction that the great depth which could not be fathomed is really a shallow, and that we should have realised that we touched bottom long ago, except that we continued to try and probe for it in a region which does not exist.
If it is true that the Indian mind is shallow, and with limited capabilities, it explains a great deal which otherwise seems perplexing. Nor will this conviction lead you to think less of the Indian. On the contrary, it makes you like him all the better, because you can appreciate his many good qualities without being disappointed because they do not yield all the fruit which might be desired.
Many instances might be given of the shallowness of the Indian's mind. In his student days he will often slave at his books to an extent almost unparalleled in any other student world. But when he has attained the goal and secured his diploma, which is the summit of his ambition, the number of students who make any further use of the knowledge which they have acquired with so much toil is few indeed. Or, if he has secured a post which would in due course lead on to a position of responsibility and corresponding prosperity, he will often throw up his work and sacrifice all his prospects on account of some trifling rebuke or imaginary slight.
The marks of unfinished projects to be seen all over India point to a want of depth of purpose. Interest and zeal has abated before the work is complete, or it was entered upon thoughtlessly without having counted the cost. It does not seem to cause the Indian any compunction that an undertaking was begun but never finished. Nor is the partly built house going to ruin because incomplete, or the well useless because it has not been sunk deep enough, an eyesore to him. Even his inveterate want of tidiness indicates a careless mind. Rubbish of all sorts lying around or within his house, even if it be of a most unsavoury nature, so that its presence forces itself upon attention, does not distress him.
Inveterate unpunctuality, and the general absence of a sense of responsibility concerning the value of time, is another indication of shallowness of mind. Days and weeks are allowed to drift away with nothing done, even amongst those who are supposed to be men of business. Petty vanity is also a mark of a shallow nature, and there are few heathen Indians who do not boast about attainments and possessions and exploits, and make unblushing statements which perhaps have not a vestige of truth in them. The reality of Indian affection as far as it goes, but its want of depth, has been already touched upon.
What ought to be firmness of character is apt to take the form of a vein of quiet obstinacy, which is latent in almost all Indians. With many it is not generally aggressive in character, and shows itself in matters of no great importance. It is necessary, for the sake of peace, to allow Indian servants to do certain things in their own way. You explain how you prefer to have a thing done and you give your reasons, and the butler or gardener will apparently agree, and they will do it for a few days according to your wish; but as soon as they think that you have forgotten, they will return to their own custom. And if you were to tell them twenty times, they would twenty times take the same course.
With Indian children a conflict of opinion is to be avoided if possible, because, even with them, if the spirit of obstinacy is aroused it may easily lead on to serious complications. An Indian lad, if he gets his back up, becomes from the most reasonable of beings the most unreasonable. Arguments and warnings are wasted upon him, and you can only leave him alone and deal with him when he has recovered.
When shallowness of nature has been recognised as being that of the average Indian, it simplifies your relations with him. You take him as he is, and enjoy the many attractive qualities which flourish, up to a certain point, in the shallow soil. It also makes it easier to govern him, supposing you have responsibilities of that nature, if you understand that you must not depend too much on certain qualities which he only possesses in a limited degree. And this is equally true whether your responsibility extends only to one or two individuals, or whether it embraces a wide area and large populations.
With the Indian boy, for instance, firmness and kindness must be judiciously blended. It is no good arguing with him in times of difficulty, or you will stir up that latent spirit of obstinacy. Rules concerning work or conduct must be clearly laid down, and deviations taken notice of at once. Almost all Indians require the stimulus of supervision to keep them up to their work. But many Indian boys are slow in learning the duties of their office, whatever it may be. They must be given time, and the same thing may have to be often patiently explained before it is digested. A word of commendation for good work or conduct may be dropped now and then, but not too often, or it will be taken as an indication that a less amount of exertion will suffice.
The question of punishment should always be very carefully thought out beforehand. But if threatened, and really earned, it is best given. "Letting off" is looked upon as a sign of weakness, and does not stimulate gratitude. Reasonable punishment, given good-temperedly, as the proper due for debt incurred, never produces ill-feeling. But the Indian boy smarts under a sense of injustice, and his case ought always to be carefully weighed, and what he has to say in his defence patiently listened to, and due deference should be shown to his special characteristics as an Eastern and not a European. Also, the infinite variety of character to be found amongst Indian boys should be taken into account. They must be dealt with, not as a flock, but as individuals.
The old Anglo-Indians of the "Lawrence" school, who were for the most part eminently Christian men, ruled India much on the same lines as if it was a large boys' school. And, when they were not hampered by undue interference from headquarters, they were on the whole signally successful, and were both beloved and feared. Unless the Indian nature changes, and that can only be with the acceptance of Christianity, and even then only up to a certain point, any attempt to govern India on different lines will be a dubious experiment. People whose nature is not very strong are often not unwilling to accept the support of a kindly, but firm hand, to guide them. And as they rarely agree amongst themselves concerning any course of action, they like to have things settled for them, provided that the decision has wisdom and common sense on its side. This of course does not apply to the little knot of discontented political agitators. But they in no way represent the attitude of the people of India. The manner of the declaration of Delhi as the new capital, coming from the lips of a King of whose goodwill they were already assured, was exactly the course of procedure which most of all commends itself to the Indian mind.
There are, however, unexpected contradictions in the Indian character which baffle explanation. In spite of the almost universal moral laxity in the conversation and personal life of a Hindu, any English lady could travel in perfect safety through the length and breadth of the land, in city or in jungle, with no other attendants than her heathen Indian servants. There are also English parents who have found that an Indian boy is, from a moral point of view, a safer guardian for their young children than the average Indian woman who usually fulfils that office.
RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSY IN INDIA
Discussing religion with Indians. Their illustrations from Nature. Want of applicability. Access to the King of kings. Moral maxims for an ascetic. Misapplication of the word "religion." Observance of caste easy. Caste often broken in private. Brahmin schoolboy asking for water. The mischievous village boy.
People with missionary aspirations have hesitated to volunteer for Indian work because they felt that they were not competent to grapple with the acute intellects and subtle philosophy of Indian thinkers. It is commonly said that the acutest intellects in India are to be found amongst the Brahmins of Poona City. A tolerably wide acquaintance amongst them would lead one to say that the would-be missionary's fears are groundless. The real difficulty of controversy with Indians, so far as it may be expedient to embark in it at all, which is doubtful, is that their arguments are often so discursive, their reasoning so childish, their illustrations so comically beside the mark, that it is scarcely possible to deal with them seriously.
They are particularly fond of illustrations drawn from Nature, and they always regard the illustration as a conclusive answer to an argument. If you point out its want of applicability, they reply by at once giving another illustration equally inapplicable. For instance, the broad-minded modern Indian argues that all religions ultimately lead to God, and so that they are all equally good; and he gives as his illustrative proof, that many rivers starting from a variety of sources eventually empty themselves into the sea. And he looks upon this, not merely as an illustration, but as a clinching argument against which nothing can be said. But if you demur he will put the case in the reverse order, and he will say that just as in Poona City there are many tanks, but the water which supplies them all comes from the great reservoir many miles away, so the various forms of religion found in different countries came originally from the same source, and are therefore identical.
A Hindu, defending the multiplicity of gods, said to me that of course there was only one Supreme Being, but that he was too great to be approached by ordinary mortals, and that it was through the lesser deities that man had access to him. To make this clear, he used the following illustration. He said that if a man had a grievance he could not go direct to the emperor and state his case, but he must begin by approaching the district collector, and ultimately his petition might reach the ears of the emperor. Happily this illustration gave the opportunity to say that in the Kingdom of Christ the poorest outcast, or the little child, can have direct and immediate access to the King of kings, whose ears are always open to the prayers of all His people.
Moral maxims, such as they are, are often put into the same illustrative form. The following maxims are for the guidance of an ascetic:—
"As the uncomplaining earth suffers injuries and affronts without any sign of resentment, so should the ascetic be unperturbed by any ill-treatment and indignities he may be subjected to.
"Into the serene sky ascend the glad sounds of mirth, the fierce roar of battle, the beating of drums, and the clash of swords; but it retains none of them; the ascetic in the midst of the turmoil of life should, in like manner, retain no impression of the events about him, be they joyous or mournful.
"As the pure flame feeds indiscriminately on all sorts of fuel, the living timber of the forest as well as the refuse of the dung-heap, so ought the ascetic to accept willingly whatever food is given to him, never reflecting on its value, nor whether it is stale or fresh."
[Footnote 2: Oman, The Ascetics of India, p. 158.]
The reader will be able to judge for himself how far the application of these illustrations is calculated to help a man in his religious aspirations towards asceticism.
The fact that Hinduism is a religion which still has a great hold upon the majority of the people of India may be partly explained by the shallowness of the Indian mind, which was referred to in the last chapter. If there had been greater depth of feeling, and keener perception of what the soul needs, the Hindu religion could never have held its ground for so long. In spite of what many writers say about Hinduism permeating every corner of domestic life, which is true in a sense, it does not mean that "religion," as we understand the word, permeates the Indian household. In an article in the Fortnightly of September 1909, an educated Hindu, Mr. P. Vencatarao by name, writing on the subject, "Why I am not a Christian," after stating amongst other things that "Hinduism has no fundamental dogmas," goes on to say: "Hinduism is much more a matter of social intercourse and domestic life than of religion in the proper sense of the word." And that is perfectly true.
It is a particularly easy religion to follow. The moral code is left undefined, and for the child depends upon the individual characteristics of the members of the household in which he grows up. The only clear rule of life which the Hindu possesses is concerning the observance of caste. That is to say, he must never take food or drink which has been in any way contaminated by the touch of a caste lower than his own, and marriage may only be contracted within the limits of his own caste. This rule he observes strictly, at any rate in public, from the earliest childhood onwards. But it conveys no moral obligation. On the contrary, it tends to self-esteem and selfishness. Nor does it often cause any serious inconvenience. Or when it does, as for instance when travelling, the exigences of modern life have brought about a number of small concessions to the strictness of the rule concerning food and drink, so that the inconveniences have been mitigated or removed.
Numbers of Hindus break their caste rules in private. More than once a high-caste visitor in the verandah, when he was alone, has asked me for a drink of water; and there is no breach of caste so heinous as to take water from the hand of a Christian. Now and then a Hindu lad will display such an audacious courage in religious matters that it partakes rather of the nature of a boyish freak. Several big Brahmin lads, most of them being about sixteen or seventeen years old, had been visiting the Mission-house rather frequently and showed a good deal of interest in Christianity. One of them, when sitting in the verandah, suddenly said to one of the Fathers: "Could I have a drink of water?" The Father replied that he would fetch him the water if he wished. The lad said: "Bring it, please"; and when the glass of water was brought, he drunk it in the presence of his companions, and thus deliberately and publicly breaking his caste. Unless he had been prepared to follow his action up in some definite way, it had no particular use; but it was not for us to suggest scruples. It need scarcely be added that the visits from that particular group of lads ceased, and it was long afterwards that, meeting the perpetrator of this rash act in the road, I asked him what penalties he had had to undergo for what he had done. He denied that any results followed, but the cessation of his visits gave the lie to this assertion.
One of the village boys, who is endowed with a strong spirit of mischief, implored me to cut off his pigtail in order that he might have the fun of seeing his mother's horror when he returned without it. But as he had no present intention of becoming a Christian, and it would have made a row to no purpose, I refused to be an accomplice to his mischief.
WILD BEASTS IN INDIA
Tigers not often seen. Unlooked-for visits. Appearance of a tiger. The dead panther. Government rewards. Annual return of people killed. The tiger's den. Jackals; their cry. Wolves. So-called "wolf-boys." The Asiatic lion.
When an English boy meets a missionary from India the only thing he wants to know is whether he has ever seen any tigers, and he is disappointed if he gets an answer in the negative. The truth is, that though wild beasts are still numerous they keep out of sight as much as possible. They soon realise that man is their enemy, and ordinarily they give him as wide a berth as possible. When a grandee wants to shoot a tiger the difficulty is to find one, and an elaborate and lengthy campaign has to be organised, and an army of beaters called into requisition in order to gradually bring the tigers within range. A forest officer of long experience, in that jungly region where the mouths of the Ganges open out into the Bay of Bengal, told me that though tigers are known to frequent those parts, he had never seen one.
In the hot weather in India English people sleep with doors and windows wide open on the ground floor, or in the verandah, or even quite out of doors in their compound, without apprehension. Whereas in England, where there are no wild beasts, and thieves may be supposed to be under control, doors and windows are barred at night as if the house was about to sustain a siege.
But where there are no barriers of sea to prevent wild beasts from wandering wherever they please, unlooked-for visits are possible, even if improbable. Animals are sometimes obliged to abandon their usual haunts in time of drought, when the normal sources of water have dried up, and they wander farther afield and come nearer to the haunts of men than is their wont. Occasionally people are taken by surprise by the advent of a panther, or even a tiger, in a district which they were supposed to have deserted.
One of the Brothers and some of the Mission boys were climbing about the hills in holiday time in the neighbourhood of Kala, a small village twenty miles or so from Poona, and in the heat of the day rested for a while in the shade of a thicket of small trees. Continuing their walk, they were startled on looking back to see a tiger jump out of the thicket in which they had been resting. Tigers rarely come into the open in the middle of the day unless they have been disturbed, and his sudden appearance was soon accounted for when an Englishman, accompanied by some native beaters, emerged. The Englishman fired, and the tiger gave a terrible roar, as he generally does when wounded, and went back into the thicket. To dislodge him was not an easy task, because a wounded tiger is, of course, a most dangerous beast. But eventually he broke cover again, and the Englishman shot him dead; and the boys had the novel experience of inspecting at close quarters the body of a tiger who, not long before, had been sheltering from the rays of the noonday sun in the same thicket as themselves.
One Sunday a bullock-cart drew up at the Mission-house, containing a large panther which had been shot, some eight or nine miles away, by a Christian who is one amongst the few privileged natives allowed to carry a gun. He was bringing the body in order to exhibit it to the local authority, so that he might claim the Government reward. The skin also fetches a good price. The scent was getting rather strong, so after photographing the successful hunter and his son, standing over the beast in the approved fashion, we were glad to hurry him on. Its claws and teeth were in a very dirty and neglected condition, which may partly account for the great danger of even slight lacerations made by an animal of this kind.
Government sometimes spends as much as L8000 a year on rewards for the destruction of wild beasts and snakes in British India, and the annual return of the number of human beings reported as having been killed by them shows that they are still sufficiently numerous to be a power in the land. In a recent return this number reached the enormous total of 24,576. But snakes were accountable for 21,827 out of these deaths. In the same year, in the case of 48 people killed by tigers in the Central Provinces, nearly all were the victims of one tigress which had been infesting the jungle for some years. A confirmed man-eater becomes very crafty, and difficult to kill.
There are many hills and dales where wild beasts found a congenial home from which they have gradually retreated in the face of man and civilisation. A den in the hillside, visible from the Mission bungalow at Yerandawana, is still spoken of as the "Tiger's den," and a remote, but probably true tradition lingers of an immense tiger who lived there and who was eventually hunted down and slain by order of the then ruler of the district. At the present day, in the immediate neighbourhood of Yerandawana the only wild creatures left are the fox and the jackal, with an occasional hyena. Jackals visit the outskirts of the village at night to see if there is anything eatable to be picked up, and they sometimes race across the Mission compound in the early morning on their way home. It is to be feared that they visit the Hindu cemetery, where the graves are often so shallow that the bodies are scarcely covered. The low-caste men, whose duty it is to bury stray corpses, do not expend more labour over their task than they can help.
Jackals generally travel in companies at night, and they utter a most peculiar and rather attractive sharp cry in chorus, which they are commonly said to repeat after exact intervals of time. But solitary jackals are often to be met with. In the mountainous district somewhat farther away wolves are still found, and they do a little damage amongst the flocks of the villages. Some two or three hundred persons are carried off yearly by wolves in British India. The majority of these victims are very young children who have strayed away a little from their parent's hut.
There is a widespread belief in rural India that wolves, instead of devouring these babies, occasionally bring them up amongst their own young ones. It has been questioned whether these stories of "wolf-boys" have any foundation in fact. A schoolmaster, whose evidence was reliable, told me that he had actually seen a boy of this description brought to a mission in North India by people who had found him in the jungle. They led him by a string, as if he had been a wild animal. The Mission accepted the charge, and the boy proved quiet and docile; but he never learnt to speak, nor, in fact, was it possible to teach him anything. He did not join the other boys in their games. When he went to church he sat there quietly, but without any apparent understanding of what it meant. He learnt, however, to smoke, and made signs to indicate that a cigarette would be acceptable; and if one was given him he gave a kind of salute by way of acknowledgment, which shows that his mind was not quite a blank. He seemed to be about ten years old when the people brought him, but whether he was still alive the schoolmaster did not know.
Even in this case there was no direct evidence to connect the boy with wolves. But the natives have so many stories of the kind that it would seem likely that there is some truth in them. It is not inconceivable that the young wolves might welcome the arrival of the strange child as a new playmate, and that if its life was spared at the first the wolf-boy would, through his human nature, gain a sort of ascendancy over his foster-parents, and they would eventually fear to hurt him, after the fashion of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book.
The Asiatic lion is sometimes spoken of slightingly, as if it was a feeble creature and almost extinct. A visit to Kathiawar, in Guzerat, would dispel the idea. In one forest alone, only a few years back, there were said to be a hundred lions, which were the terror of the surrounding villages. One of these lions in recent years killed an officer who formed one of a shooting party organised for the benefit of one of the former governors of Bombay.
SOME INDIAN ANIMALS
The squirrel. The tame antelope. Effect of the railway. Monkeys in Delhi. In the jungle. Wild pigs; their destruction. The mongoose. The buffalo; its milk; its disposition. The Indian donkey. Hard labour. Poor fare. Indian callousness. Elephants. Camels. The horse.
In the jungle of trees and coarse vegetation which surrounds many of the old-fashioned bungalows in India, the shrill, nor very musical call of the squirrel—half cry and half whistle—may frequently be heard. They gambol about the trees, and run up the walls of the bungalow, and chase each other along the eaves with apparent gaiety and freedom from care. But as you watch them through the chinks of the blinds made of slender reeds, which shade the verandah from the glare of the sun, you see signs that all is not harmony even in their small world.
The grey and black striped fur of the squirrel always appears spotlessly clean, and in all their spare moments they are busy at their toilet. The bushy tail is their chief beauty, and it is scarcely ever at rest. Like so many other animals, they betray their varying emotions by the way in which they frisk it about. Their manners are beautiful, and when they have got hold of a choice morsel they take it in their paws, and sitting on their haunches eat it with evident enjoyment, but with a certain polish and grace of manner pretty to see. Young squirrels are easily tamed, and soon get reconciled to making their home in the jacket pocket of a schoolboy.
When I was staying in the bungalow of a country mission, an exquisitely graceful antelope stepped into the verandah, and entering the room where we were breakfasting, went up to my host and asked for food. He had tamed it when young, but it was now living a semi-wild life, and was often absent in the jungle for days together. In some parts of India various kinds of deer may be seen from the windows of the train. The making of a line of railway naturally has the tendency to drive the wild creatures of the district deeper into the jungle, but after a while they to some extent get accustomed to the passing of the train, and delightful glimpses of animal life can sometimes be got when travelling. Monkeys, for instance, have insatiable curiosity, and when they have got over their first alarm the quaint sight may sometimes be seen of a row of monkeys seated on the top of the boundary wall to watch the train go by.
Monkeys have become lawless citizens of Delhi, and will no doubt greatly welcome the enlarged scope for mischief which the new city will open out to them. They travel in troops over the flat roofs, and are very bold and mischievous, and great thieves. But monkeys must be studied in their wild freedom in the woods to appreciate them. When seen leaping from tree to tree with refreshing elasticity, or from rock to rock in the open country, their spirit of fun and mischief having full scope, the sight is a delightful one. They stick very closely to their own districts, although now and then a solitary monkey will detach himself from the rest and search for pastures new.
Wild pigs are common in some parts, looking like the poor relations of their tame brethren. They do great harm amongst crops, and no weapon is of much avail against them except the gun. The Christian who shot the panther mentioned in the last chapter was largely employed by the Hindu farmers round about to shoot any wild pig that came into their fields. It was for him a profitable job, because, besides his fee, he got the carcase of the pig, for which he could always get Rs. 10 from a Parsee, who regarded the flesh as a great luxury. Wild pigs are also chased in the so-called "sport" of pig-sticking, which is popular amongst some English residents.
Now and then the mongoose, useful as a destroyer of snakes and rats, may be caught sight of, with his long coarse fur, running across the road, or hunting along a fence, much in the same way as a weasel shows himself in England, although the mongoose is a good deal larger. Sometimes they will even venture into a bungalow to prospect, and young ones are easily tamed and become domestic pets.
Every morning a lumbering buffalo shambles into the compound to be milked on the premises, in order to ensure getting the unadulterated article. Even then it is expedient to look into the bottom of the vessel to see that no water has been put there before the milking begins. Buffalo's milk is not very rich, and the cream, such as it is, produces a white and tasteless butter, which has generally to be doctored and coloured before an Englishman will look at it.
The buffalo for the greater part of the year has not much flesh on his huge skeleton, and is a sorrowful-looking creature with an expressionless eye and an inky skin, and often with enormous horns which give him a formidable appearance. But except when buffaloes fight amongst themselves they are not savage beasts, although their temper is uncertain, and they are said to be liable to attack an Englishman in districts where they are not accustomed to the sight. Generally buffaloes appear to take no interest whatever in life, except to regard it as a burden too heavy to bear. A whole herd is sent out to graze under the care of a small boy; they are in astonishing subjection to his despotic rule.
The Indian donkey is very small, and its foal is a beautiful little creature; but its life-long sentence of hard labour begins early. It spends its days carrying great weights of earth, or brick, or stone, or gravel, in panniers made of coarse sacking, for buildings, road-making, and the like. They work in droves of a dozen, or twenty, or more, according to the prosperity of the contractor. When they have delivered their burden, the men and boys who are in charge each mount a donkey, the legs of the men almost touching the ground, and the cavalcade goes for a fresh load, often at full gallop.
It is an understood thing that an Indian donkey finds its own food, how and where he can, in odd moments during the day, or at night when he is turned adrift to wander as far as his hobbled legs can take him. The brief period of plenty, when grass springs up after the rains, is so brief that it must only make the rest of the year appear the more blank by way of contrast. Indians are credited with being humane, because they are unwilling to take life, but there are probably few people who are so callous concerning the sufferings of the animal world. The owners of the donkeys have a cruel custom of slitting their nostrils, because it is supposed to moderate the loudness of their bray.
Elephants are used much less as beasts of burden than was the case in days gone by. Some are employed in military service and in the pursuit of big game, but their chief function is to make an imposing appearance on grand occasions in some of the native states. But the fact that elephants were not used in the royal processions at the last Delhi Durbar, will probably lead to their being gradually less used even for ceremonial purposes. Camels are employed for all sorts of work in Northern India, and add greatly to the picturesqueness of the road and street traffic. The horse plays a subordinate part, comparatively speaking, in the labours of India, except for hack duty. And though wealthy people, both English and Indian, drive handsome horses, the motor-car is rapidly taking their place in the service of the rich, or the prosperous professional, of all nations.
THE INDIAN WORLD OF NATURE
The Southern Cross. Crocodiles. Fire-flies. Locusts; their ravages. Indian birds; they cannot sing; their plumage. The "brain-fever" bird. Swallows. Peewits. Vultures. Crows. Kites. Tameness of the birds.
In spite of the expression, "a traveller's tale," being equivalent to saying that a story is probably untrue, your confidence in the general veracity of the traveller is strengthened when you find that certain things are even more beautiful or strange than books of travel led you to expect. For instance, the Southern Cross is a glorious constellation and an undoubted cross, and entirely satisfying, so that you are not disturbed by the opinions of the few who say that it is disappointing. Whether you see it for the first time from the deck of the steamer in the Red Sea, or for the hundredth time high up in the air over the heathen City of Poona, as if it claimed victory over it, the sight is always equally inspiring.
The view of crocodiles lying on the mud-bank of a river in Bengal inspired confidence in the accuracy of early teachings, because they were so like the hideous monster in the picture hung on the nursery wall. A crocodile can see and breathe while the whole of its body is immersed in the water, because its eyes and nostrils are on a plane on the surface of the head. A person incautiously bathing, or dipping water out of the river, may be suddenly seized by a crocodile who, though on the watch, is buried in the muddy water and invisible. Every year a certain number of human lives are lost in this way. Cattle and other animals coming to the river-side to drink are dragged into the water and devoured. The Poona river, swollen to a torrent in the rains, and for the rest of the year reduced to a small stream, meandering along a stony and rocky bed, is not suited to the habits of a crocodile, and there are none.
The brilliance of fire-flies is quite beyond the description usually found in books. They flash hither and thither like tiny electric lamps, and they are so numerous in certain places at certain times that they might be supposed to be some organised scheme of fairy illumination on a large scale. Boys sometimes capture two or three and put them into a bit of muslin and carry them about as lamps, and the light they give is quite appreciable. The insect itself is a dull-looking little creature, apart from its luminosity.
Another astonishing experience in which the reality at least equals the descriptions, is a visitation of locusts. When you hear for the first time the peculiar rustling sound made by the beating of the countless wings of the vast army which sweeps past in an unbroken stream for hours, you realise what an invasion of locusts really means. Military terms, such as "army," "invasion," are strictly applicable, because locusts come with a rush and determination, and a military precision, and an evident unanimity of purpose, which suggests the movements of soldiers under orders. This idea is accentuated when the head and body of the locust is of a bright red colour.
The rapid destruction which they cause has also been described with fidelity. They have jaws of great power, and when they take possession of a tree it is stripped in ten minutes or so. When locusts settle down on a group of trees, the colour of each tree is instantaneously changed from green to red, because there is practically a locust to every leaf. When they travel on again, the tree they leave behind them is bare as an English tree in mid-winter. Little can be done to arrest their progress. An ordinary garden may be protected to some extent by beating the trees with poles, and so driving off the locusts as fast as they alight. But to protect any large area in this way is impossible.
The natives try to frighten them by making a deafening din, beating tom-toms and tin cans, but it is doubtful whether the locusts pay any heed to these demonstrations. A few people amongst the lower castes eat locusts, but they are not sought after by Indians in general. Monkeys, dogs, and some birds eat them, but their numbers are so vast that none of their enemies produce any appreciable diminution.
In the Indian world of nature the sweet melody of the birds of England is absent. No Indian bird knows how to sing. Some make a brave attempt, but they break down after the third note. The so-called Indian nightingale only deserves its name because its performance is a shade less disappointing than that of the rest. Nor do the birds compensate for their lack of musical power by the splendour of their plumage. It is generally supposed that plants and animals in the tropics must necessarily be brilliant in colour. But many English birds equal Indian ones even in this respect. For instance, the green wood-pecker with his red crest is scarcely less gorgeous than the green parrot, and the kingfisher only comes behind its Indian relative in size. The plumage of the golden oriole is certainly sumptuous, and brilliant sunshine has, of course, the effect of showing off colour to the best advantage.
Though Indian birds cannot sing, they shout, and scream, and whistle. What is known amongst English residents as the "brain-fever" bird, is common in some districts. He makes a series of sounds, thought by some to resemble this word, over and over again with increasing rapidity and shrillness, until he breaks down and begins afresh. To people actually suffering from the ordinary fever so common in India he is sometimes a serious annoyance, because it is almost impossible not to follow him mentally in his incessant repetition of "brain fever." To a few fortunate people his peculiar note does not suggest these words. Even the Indian sparrow drowns conversation with his shrill chirp, taking advantage of the ever-open doors and windows to invade the bungalow, and making determined efforts to make his nest in the most inconvenient places.
The swallows which build in the verandah are like old friends, and are always welcome. The curious cry which they make as they wheel in and out of the verandah in the last few minutes before they plunge into bed under the eaves, sounds almost melodious by contrast with the strange noises made by other birds. There is also a species of peewit who utters a rather pretty call, which might be supposed to be the Marathi version of what the English peewit says.
Vultures are as uncanny-looking as they are painted, and to see them waiting on the trees near the erections where Parsees put out their dead to be devoured, is not a pleasant sight. They also sit and watch near the Hindu burning-grounds, which suggests the uncomfortable idea that pickings are to be had there also. The rapidity with which they collect from all parts and swoop down upon the dead carcase of an animal is astonishing to witness. Their value as scavengers is great, and in a very short time nothing is left of the carcase but bare bones.
Crows are also useful as scavengers. Nevertheless, they are a great nuisance, especially in Bombay. Their loud cawing is often most distracting; but they are also bold thieves, and do not hesitate to enter houses when they see their opportunity and to carry off any portable article which comes first to hand, even when it is of no possible use to them. Some of the birds of prey are beautiful objects, on account of their size, and the boldness of their flight. Kites wheel about in the air in large numbers around Poona. Since people carry almost everything upon their heads, a kite not unfrequently makes a sudden swoop and snatches a prize out of the basket.
Few people are allowed a gun license, so that birds are less afraid of mankind than they are in England, and favourable opportunities constantly occur of observing them near at hand. A great variety may be met with in an ordinary country walk in the cultivated parts of India where food is plentiful. Although they cannot sing, many of them have quaint and charming personal characteristics.
INSECTS IN INDIA
Noise of insects at night. Troublesome in the evening. The blister-fly. Bees. Wasps. Cockroaches. Ants in the bungalow. White ants. Scorpions; their sting. Boys callous of the feelings of insects. Bugs. Spiders. Mosquitoes. The mosquito-net. Flies. The eye-fly. Insects resembling their surroundings. Butterflies. The praying mantis.
Amidst the many sounds of the restless Indian night, some far away, some near at hand, there is one which, when it commences, drowns all the rest. It is a harsh, metallic, rasping, shrill, unmusical sound. It might seem as if it had to do with some machinery, except that it is unlike the sound of any machine that you ever heard. It begins in the room where you are sitting reading, or else out in the verandah, where you are enjoying the cooler breeze of evening. Loud as it is, you cannot locate it. At one moment you think it is up aloft amongst the rafters, at another moment it seems to be close by. It emanates from an uninteresting-looking brown insect, about an inch long, who makes prodigious jumps like a grasshopper. One night when this din was so great that conversation was almost impossible, I was astonished to find that the insect was on the table, only a few inches away from my book, and I was able to see his method of making this sound. He was vibrating his horny wing-cases with marvellous rapidity, producing such an amount of noise that, unless one had seen it in process of production, it would have seemed impossible that it could arise from such a humble source.
At certain seasons, and especially when it is warm and damp, the evening meal in the country is attended with difficulty because of the quantity of insects, especially beetles, which are attracted by the lamp, and they appear to make a specialty of falling into any dish which may be at hand. When camping out the difficulty is intensified, and the only thing to be done is to put the lamp at a distance and to dine in comparative darkness. Such a variety of insects come that an entomologist might make quite a respectable collection in the course of one night. One of these evening visitors after the rains is a long, slim beetle, green, or sometimes buff in colour, with a small head which fits loosely into his body. He twists his head about as if his collar was uncomfortable. When alarmed he exudes a strong acid which at once raises a blister. He is the more dangerous because, flying in rapidly, he often alights on your collar or neck, and the action of brushing him off causes the emission of the acid, and the blister follows.
In the daytime, bees, black and hairy, immense in size, and making a noise like a threshing-machine, come banging in at the open windows. They are not as formidable as they look, except in their own domains, and they quickly depart in response to indications that they are not wanted. They know their way out without difficulty, which is contrary to the experience of most intruding animals.
A solitary wasp is apt to select inconvenient places in which to build a mud-cell wherein to deposit its egg, and the store of live caterpillars destined to be the food of its young when hatched. You find a keyhole, or the tap of a filter, filled with mud as the result of this wasp's labours. It works so rapidly that it generally completes its job in the course of a day. An even more inconvenient site for its nest is the sleeve of a garment left hanging on a peg, especially if you put the garment on while the wasp is at work. A small colony of social wasps built their comb under the refectory table of the village Mission-house. They were so determined to remain that for some months they resisted all attempts to get rid of them, returning as often as they were dispersed.
Cockroaches, some of great size, abound in most houses, and are very destructive. They nibble the bindings of books, and cut quaint devices, which look almost as if they had been done with a pair of scissors, in clothes put away in drawers. They run at an amazing pace when they think they are in danger.
Jet black ants, enormously big and warlike in appearance, come into bungalows, sometimes in unpleasantly large numbers, to see what they can pick up. They are not really aggressive, nor do they do any particular mischief. Another kind of ant, very like an ordinary English one though smaller, is a great trial to housekeepers. They get into the bread and sugar and other stores, and though cupboards are generally set in saucers of water on account of insect depredators, these ants often manage to get in.
White ants are most destructive in a house if it is built of materials which they can deal with. In the case of many houses in India, mud is used instead of mortar, and the structure suffers greatly if the white ants take possession. All woodwork, including furniture, ought to be of teak, because they are unable to burrow into it. Sound hard floors are necessary, so that when ants try to work their way upwards they may find their road blocked. Otherwise, in the course of one night, they will eat large holes in a mat or carpet, coming up from beneath. They make havoc in a library if they get amongst the books. Many ant-heaps out in the country are so large as to be conspicuous objects.
Scorpions may be found anywhere. In your bedding, in your boots, in your clothes, under your books and, out of doors, chiefly under stones. You soon get into the way of prudently shaking each garment before putting it on. The scorpion averages about two inches in length, but they vary a good deal in size, and also in colour. They much resemble a little lobster in appearance. Their sting is not dangerous under ordinary circumstances, but the pain is great, and resembles a blow on the funny bone, continuing acute for some hours. The boys, sleeping on the floor and having bare feet, get stung now and then, and generally make great lamentations over the misfortune.
Indian boys are like many English rustics in their disregard for the feelings of animals—they appear honestly to think that they have none—and they delight in forming a chain of scorpions by making them grip each other, which they do fiercely, and hang on tenaciously. Boys will also nip off the end of their tail to prevent them from stinging, and leave them in this maimed condition.
Wherever Indians live, bugs are invariably found. Hence in schools where many Indian children are gathered together these insects are sure to find an entrance, in spite of vigilant care and cleanliness. When the small boys of the Mission moved out from their old quarters in the city, which like all old native houses was much infested, immense pains were taken to make sure that no bug was transported to the new home in the country. But it was not long before these intruders showed themselves in the new house. Possibly they fulfil some useful but at present unknown function as destroyers of microbes.
Spiders are much in evidence, and some are very large and fierce. Out in the country I once fairly ran away from a great spider, which made for my foot with a courage and ferocity such as one would not expect to find in an animal of the kind. But they are not altogether unwelcome in a house, because they help to keep down the population of the insect world. There is a handsome little spider who spins no web, and roves about, and springs on its victim like a tiger.
Mosquitoes are the most troublesome insects to be found in the tropics, although some districts are much more infested than others. There are several different kinds. The one that causes the most irritation is smaller than the average English gnat. They are veritable bloodsuckers, and the amount of blood which a mosquito can imbibe is astonishing. They may be seen so distended after their night's work that they can scarcely fly. Newcomers from England are their special prey, and their bites often cause a good deal of inflammation. The loud hum with which they approach is almost as disturbing as their bite. Most English people have nets of fine gauze surrounding their beds, and some Indians have adopted the same precaution since the promulgation of the theory that the bite of an infected mosquito is the cause of malarial fever. Natives when they sleep, generally roll themselves up completely, head and all, in a dhota, which they use then after the manner of a sheet. The mosquito-nets cut off a good deal of air, and people are tempted to discard them unwisely when the nights are intensely hot. The framework from which the nets depend is a frail counterpart of the four-poster of the Victorian age. The net is usually tucked in under the mattress, to prevent any possibility of the mosquito entering. In places where mosquitoes abound they are troublesome by day as well as by night, and they are specially fond of attacking the ankles of persons seated at table.
Towards the close of the rainy season flies become numerous almost everywhere, but especially in a native city like Poona, and they are an unpleasant indication of its unsavoury condition. They fall into your cup, the table is black with them, your food becomes a matter of dispute between you and them. But out of doors, except at meal-time in camp, they are not nearly so aggressive as the summer flies which buzz around during a country walk in England. Though they could be dispensed with without regret, they are probably of great value as scavengers.
There is a very small fly which is popularly known as the "eye-fly," because it hovers in front of your eye like a troublesome person who will not take a refusal. It apparently thinks that the pupil is the entrance into some desirable chamber. Fortunately it rarely gets beyond the stage of prospecting this supposed entrance. Now and then it travels round to your ear and prospects there also. But though it does so at a safe distance it makes an irritating hum, and it is so small that attempts to flap it away are futile.
There are many striking instances in India of insects being protected from their enemies by their likeness in colour and markings to the tree or plant on which they feed. The most noteworthy example of this is a long insect, so precisely similar to a bit of dry stick that, until you actually see it walk, you can hardly believe that it can be anything else.
Butterflies, in the Poona district at any rate, are disappointing. They are larger than the English ones—the scale of most things in India is big—but their colours are not strikingly brilliant. Some of the large moths are handsome, but not more so than many of the English nocturnal moths.
The most comical insect is the praying mantis. It is of a fresh green colour, often three or four inches long, and something like a grasshopper in appearance. When it alights on your table in the evening, attracted by the lamp, it behaves in a seemingly ridiculous way. It puts its long front legs together as if praying, and sways about as it does so in an absurdly affected fashion, reminiscent of Thackeray's description of Charles Honeyman in the pulpit.
THE INDIAN ASCETIC
The fakir from Delhi. Mohammedan tombs. A visit to the fakir; his possessions; his manner of life; his temper; diminishing austerity; building his shanty; he settles down. Hindu religious community; their dress; how they beg; of both sexes; the community children; the Guru; opinions of the villagers concerning them.
A fakir (that is to say, a wandering Mohammedan ascetic) from Delhi took up his quarters by the tomb of a departed fakir, who is buried by the side of a footpath, in the field of which the Mission property at Yerandawana forms part. There are many such-like tombs, here and there, all about India. They somewhat resemble rude altar-tombs in appearance, two or three feet high, made of brick or stone, and whitewashed. Generally they are under the shade of a tree, either planted at the time of burial or growing there already. On the anniversary of the day of death faithful Mohammedans will often cover the tomb with a kind of coarse muslin, edged with gold or yellow tinsel, and decorate it with flowers. That these tombs are numerous, and that they are often found in remote country districts, is accounted for, firstly, by the fact that this kind of asceticism was formerly much more popular than is the case now; and, secondly, that as the fakirs wandered everywhere, and ultimately died in the course of their wanderings, each would be buried where he happened to die. The Mohammedans of the district would then build up the, not very expensive, tomb as a tribute to his religious profession, without much reference perhaps as to the amount of strictness with which he fulfilled his obligations.
The tomb at Yerandawana is in a very exposed situation. The only shelter, several yards off, is a barbel, which is a tree bearing small leaves and covered with thorns, and hardly affords any shade at all, so that the fakir was exposed to the scorching rays of the sun all day long. This has not the same malignant effect on an Indian that it would speedily have upon an Englishman, but the former dislikes sitting in the sun in the middle of the day quite as much as he values the genial warmth of its morning rays in the cold weather.
After the fakir had lived here a while I went to call upon him, and squatted down beside the tomb. A tall slender bamboo, which in such cases is usually adorned with a little flag, marked the spot. He had a small lantern burning at night, which I used to see glimmering when I closed the church door after Compline. His other property consisted of the crutch-stick, which is the emblem of his profession; a brass bowl for water; a piece of sacking and an old blanket for his bed. There was also a large accumulation of ashes from the wood fire on which he prepared his food.
When I called he was just rekindling his fire, with the help of a match-box and some splinters of wood which somebody had given him. He was warmly dressed, considering that it was the middle of the hot weather, in an old cloth jacket and a coloured dhota, rather scanty but of thicker material than is usual in our part of India. He had long black hair, which he said had never been cut. He seemed rather proud of it, and often dressed it with a little comb. It was parted neatly in the middle and fell in locks over his shoulders, and glistened with oil. He wore moustache and beard, the former cut very short. In the neatness and cleanliness of his person he was a great contrast to the Hindus of the same type, who are called gosavies, and whose heads are purposely left to nature, the result of which may easily be imagined.
He told me that it had taken him one and a half months from Delhi, a distance of nearly a thousand miles, and that he had travelled all the way on foot, and that he meant to remain for two months by this tomb, and then he would go to Delhi. He had been in all parts of India and Burma, and had lived this life ever since he was a child. He knew nothing about the particular fakir whose tomb he was honouring, but it was sufficient that he had been a mendicant like himself.
An egg-merchant is the only Mohammedan living in Yerandawana, and I fancy that the fakir was rather a tax on him, although a few Hindus gave him small contributions. I asked him how he lived, and he said that he ate what people gave him, and that if they did not give he went without. I asked how he managed in the rainy season. He replied that if people offered him shelter he accepted it, but that if there were no offers of hospitality he sat in the rain. He said that he had no books and that he could not read. The true fakir, he added, has no books; his mind is his book, and all that he ought to know about God is written there. I asked him whether he considered his life a useful one. He said, "Yes, certainly; I pray." "For yourself?" I asked. "No, for others," was his reply. I saw he was anxious to get on with his cooking, and so I brought my visit to a close.
Unfortunately the fakir did not improve the longer he stayed with us. The Mission children were at first inclined to make game of him. Their attitude to the religions to which some of them once belonged is generally one of intense contempt, and they do not always exercise discretion in their way of expressing their feelings. The so-called "ascetics" are feared in India, but not respected, and our children, no longer fearing them, are apt to show their scorn. The fakir did not accept with humility the disrespect of the children, and I first became aware that they had been calling after him rudely, when he turned and faced them with fierce rebukes.
But they were not the only people with whom he quarrelled. Both on the road, and at his station by the tomb, I often heard him pouring out torrents of angry eloquence, sometimes to the rather numerous women who visited him, bringing him offerings of food. I was not near enough to understand whether he was wroth because the offerings were not to his taste. Also, little luxuries began to gather round him. With the arrival of the rains came an umbrella. A smart new lamp to mark out his encampment at night took the place of the shabby old one. He usually returned from his frequent visits to the Mohammedan egg-merchant enjoying one of the cheap smokes which Indians love, and he began to put up the framework of a shanty as a shelter over himself and the tomb. The materials for the shanty came in but slowly, so that it was some time before the fakir could be said to have a roof over his head. Perhaps the faithful did not altogether approve of the diminishing austerity in the ascetic life.
His shed was completed at last, and he could no longer be said to be quite homeless. But though his new house could not be called luxurious, his life had lost the edifying element of the complete poverty of his shelterless sojourn by the side of the tomb. Nor, when his time was up, did he show any inclination to resume his wanderings, and it seems not unlikely that he will remain in his quarters at the tomb till his turn comes to die, and then the kindly egg-merchant will erect a whitewashed sepulchre over his remains, and he will be reckoned among the saints.
Members of a large and peculiar religious community of Hindus are often to be met with in the Bombay Presidency. Their habit resembles the ordinary dress worn by Hindus, but a good deal amplified, and dyed a slate colour. It is a rather successful adaptation of everyday dress to religious purposes. They travel generally in large companies and stay a long time in one spot, where, as a rule, they form a camp of temporary huts. But sometimes they take a house for a while. Small detachments from the main body wander round the villages, lodging in an empty house, or taking possession of the village rest-house. They remain till the charity of the village is exhausted, and then they move on.
They beg on a large scale. The "one pice," or farthing, which the ordinary beggar asks for, does not at all represent their idea of charity. They expect any fairly well-to-do person, such as a shopkeeper, to give sufficient food for the whole community for one day, and they sit in his house till they get it. They do not stand at the door and salaam and cringe, like the ordinary mendicant. They boldly enter in uninvited and demand alms. They are much disliked on account of the largeness of their wants. But they are also feared on account of the terrible nature of their denunciations if they do not get what they ask for. They profess to be celibates, but a peculiarity of their constitution is that the community consists of both males and females, and they camp close to each other. The small detachments who travel round the villages are also mixed companies. There are a large number of children attached to the community, who are brought up to follow the same life and wear the same slate-coloured habit. So also do the women, who receive an education, contrary to the custom so prevalent in India, and are said to spend a good deal of their time teaching the children. Their explanation of the presence of children in their midst is that they are orphans, or that they have been given to them by parents in fulfilment of a vow.
One of the small sub-sections of the community took up their quarters in the verandah of a shut-up house in Yerandawana. Passing through the village one evening, I came upon them just as they were about to sit down to their evening meal. I asked a rather pleasant-looking, middle-aged woman whether the several children that I saw playing about went to school. She replied, "No. I teach them." A tall, not very attractive-looking old man came out of the verandah, and asked who I was. When I gave him my name, he said that his name was "Krishna Padre"—the latter being the popular title given in India to a clergyman. He was the Guru, or religious teacher, to the community.
I said that I was the Christian Guru of the place. He asked me the usual questions as to what pay I got, and who gave me my food and clothing, and the meaning of the knots in my girdle. Then he asked me if I ate meat, and when I said that I did, he took a large pinch of snuff, saying that I was not a true Guru, because a true Guru never eats meat. Someone then called him away to supper. I invited him to come and see the church next day, but the following morning they all moved on to the next village. The Yerandawana people were thankful to be rid of them, and assured me that the Guru's assertion that he never took meat was not true; as also another of his assertions, that they never worshipped idols, because they carried one about with them and the old Guru worshipped it daily.
THE INDIAN WIDOW
Exaggerated statements about widows. Easterns naturally demonstrative in their grief. The conservative widow. Influential and wealthy widows. Remarriage of widows. Hindu Widows' Home; its aim and object; a visit to the Home; the daily routine; impressions made by the visit. The True Light. The future of the widows. Custom a hindrance to progress. The effect of caste. The Indian daughter-in-law; not necessarily in bondage. A kind-hearted mother-in-law.
There has been a good deal of false sentiment expended, and exaggerated statements made, concerning the condition of widows in India. The condition of a widow is of necessity a trying one in any country. She often has to exchange a position of affluence and importance for one of poverty and obscurity. The Indian widow is at any rate sure of a home and support from her relations, which is not always the case with the English widow. The stripping of the ornaments, the shaving of the head, the shabby garments, the meagre food, the hard work, and the despised position of the Indian widow has often been described in moving terms. But the Western widow also lays aside her ornaments during her time of mourning, and the shaving of the head is a natural Eastern outward symbol of sorrow. The Hindu man, who invariably wears a moustache, shaves it off when he loses some near relation, such as a parent or a brother. The plain white garments which the Indian widow usually wears have nothing of the dreary severity of the garb of the veiled English widow, to whom also scanty food, hard work, and humble station often becomes her portion from necessity.