Easterns are always demonstrative in their expressions of grief. Hence the removal of the ornaments, the cutting off the hair, etc., is performed in a demonstrative way. But the Hindu widow would not wish it otherwise; and although all the ceremonies may not be exactly congenial to her, she is at any rate a person of importance even in her humiliation, and that is a great compensation to her. If she has money—and some Hindu husbands leave all their wealth to their wives—she will find herself surrounded by affectionate relations, all of them ready to undertake the management of her property, and each of them warning her of the necessity of being on her guard not to trust any of the others.
At a Hindu Widows' Home, to be described presently, the inmates dress as they like, wear what ornaments they please, and let their hair grow. Someone visiting the Home was surprised to see a widow with her head shaved, and wearing the unadorned white garments. On inquiry, it transpired that this woman refused to avail herself of her freedom, and that she preferred to bear the outward marks of widowhood out of respect to the memory of her husband.
One of the most influential of the residents in Yerandawana village is a widow, and she is much looked up to. She is well-dressed, wears a good deal of gold jewellery, and her white hair sets off her wrinkled brown face. She was photographed in a group with her grandsons; and her relations and other villagers not unfrequently call at the Mission bungalow and ask to see the photograph.
The real hardship for the young Hindu widow is that she cannot marry again. In spite of much talk amongst so-called Hindu "reformers" about the advisability of allowing the remarriage of widows, very little practical progress has been made in this direction. Many young girls are thus condemned unwillingly to lead unmarried lives, their widowhood having often begun in actual childhood. The result of this is, as might be expected, in too many cases disastrous.
Many of the attempts of Hindus to establish charitable institutions, such as orphanages, have been definitely in opposition to Christian efforts in the same direction, and they did not deserve to prosper, and few survive. But there is one institution, which was founded with a genuine desire to ameliorate the position of young Hindu widows, which has not only held its ground, but has steadily enlarged its sphere of usefulness.
This Hindu Widows' Home is out in the country, two or three miles beyond our own village Mission. Its aim and object, as expressed in their report, published in English as well as Marathi, is as follows:—"To educate young widows from the higher castes that do not allow widow remarriage, so as to enable them to earn an honourable living and to cultivate their minds." The work, begun on a small scale several years ago, has gradually developed. The inmates of the Home number eighty or more, and nearly all of these are Brahmin widows. But even Brahmins are divided into sections, and although in the Home they are all able to eat in the same room, they sit in different groups according to the section to which they belong.
A visit to the Home is an interesting, but rather pathetic experience. The buildings are excellently adapted to their purpose; substantial, well designed, and conveniently arranged. Extreme neatness and cleanliness, so rare in India, prevail. The young women study diligently under competent masters, and they all share in the housework. The daily bath and the washing of their principal garment, which is part of the necessary routine of a high-caste Hindu before their chief meal, takes some time. Hindu schools never open till late, except in the very hot weather, because these operations, including their meal, have to be got through before the real work of the day begins. The widows have only two regular meals, the one at 10, the other at 6.30. But prosperous Indians eat largely at one sitting, so that when people eat only two meals a day, which is the custom in most Indian families, it does not mean that they are put on short commons.
They have a large prayer-room at the Home, in which they assemble for the reading of Hindu scriptures and explanations of the same, and occasionally there is a short discourse. There was no idol in this room at the time of my visit, but I was informed that one would be placed there eventually, not because it was in any way necessary for their worship, but because it was customary. The small Tulsi plant, the common object of devotion amongst women, was the only visible indication of idolatry. This plant was growing in one of the courtyards on the sort of ornamental pedestal of brick and plaster which is the usual arrangement. It was allowed in condescension to the prejudices of the minority, and I was assured that it was only the few who made use of it.
The high-caste Hindu woman has a grave and rather melancholy, lifeless face, and the inmates of the Home were largely of this type. But they did not look otherwise than contented, especially the younger ones. But the impression left upon me, as I left the place and bade farewell to the gifted and evidently most earnest Indian lady who showed me over the establishment, was one of intense melancholy. Here was the husk without the kernel. Consciously, or unconsciously, there was much in the Widows' Home which was copied from Christian institutions, and which never could have sprung out of Hinduism. If only Christ, with all that He has to give, could be received into the Home, what light and gladness He would bring into the hearts of these poor gropers after truth! It is impossible to guess whether or no this effort may be preparing the way for Christ in the distant future. At present there is no indication that Christianity is a subject of either interest or inquiry on the part of any of the inmates, except for that visit which a few of them paid to our village church.
The serious flaw in the project, from a merely utilitarian point of view, is that the future of these young women appears rather vague. The demand for female Hindu teachers in India is at present small, and a few only have found employment in this way. Three or four have become nurses or midwives. Knitting, weaving, and other industrial work has taken practical shape and may lead to something. But, so far, only one student has accomplished remarriage, which is what would make the Home a real blessing amongst Hindus. There are now a number of educated men who feel the desirability of an accomplished wife who could share in their interests and intellectual pursuits. The great disparity of age between husband and wife, almost universal amongst Hindus, is beginning to be recognised as an abuse, although the idea still lingers, even amongst Indian Christians, that the husband should always be rather the elder of the two. These young widows, well-educated, trained, and disciplined by their busy life in the institution, would make excellent wives for the educated Hindus. But the power of custom is so overwhelming in India that, in spite of the obvious advantages to be derived from the arrangement, the probability is that the remarriage of a Hindu widow will for a long time continue to be a most unusual event.
Caste here also, as well as everywhere else, is a barrier to progress. I once suggested to a delightful and accomplished young Hindu, of good position but not a Brahmin, who would have liked an intellectual and companionable wife, that he should marry one of the widows from the Home. But he assured me that such a thing was absolutely impossible on account of his caste, and that not a widow in the Home would have him, in spite of all that he had to offer her.
There has also been a great deal of exaggeration, in books about Indian customs, concerning the position of the young daughter-in-law, as if of necessity it must be one of great bondage. The mother-in-law no doubt rules her daughter-in-law from the time she takes up residence in the household, because she is usually still quite a child and has to be taught her duties, and especially how to cook. But, for the most part, the mother-in-law appears to be very devoted to her daughter-in-law, and if she sometimes corrects her it is in her anxiety that she should excel in domestic affairs, so that she may be a good housewife.
One of the farmers' wives brought her youngest son's little wife to the village Mission bungalow to ask us to show her the lad's photograph, which had been taken some time back. There did not appear to be any restraint or mystery in speaking of her husband, which we are sometimes told in books is a characteristic of Hindu matrimonial life. The young wife, who was a pretty child of about thirteen years, was pleasantly shy; but her cheerful mother-in-law showed her the photograph and discussed it, together with that of another group of villagers, in which she picked out her own husband, with much animated talk, and pleasant smiles and laughter. Except for the difference in the setting of the picture it might have stood for a scene in a country parsonage in England.
WRONGDOING IN INDIA
The High Courts. The petty courts. Disappearance of the school clock. Methods of Indian police; indignation of the villagers; conduct of the police complained of; an inquiry instituted; unsatisfactory result. Police torture leads to concealment of crime. Detection of crime difficult in India. Thieving. Serious moral wrongs. Successful concealment.
In the Indian High Courts justice is administered with extreme care, and sentences are pronounced with a full sense of responsibility and with complete impartiality, so far as it is possible to come at the truth where a large measure of false evidence is almost sure to have place in every case. Indians who have been raised to important judicial positions have shown themselves fully competent to discharge the duties of their office rightly, and have shown much legal sagacity, together with the other special qualifications which go to make a good judge.
But when you descend to the petty courts, the state of things is less satisfactory. When everything is in the hands of a lower grade of Indian officials, and European supervision is necessarily of the slightest, influence and money and favour and luck have much to do with the chances for or against the prisoner. In the tracking of culprits and the gathering of evidence, and in all the preparatory work in which police are engaged, it is to be feared that unlawful methods are still practised, especially in the more remote country districts. Some of the European police do not seem to take much trouble to stamp out these abuses.
We had an opportunity of seeing something of the ways in which Indian police try to discover an offender, after the disappearance one night of the clock from the village Mission day-school. We informed the Patel, or headman, of our loss, which was the correct procedure. He, at leisure, held a sort of court of inquiry in the verandah of the Mission bungalow; but as nothing transpired he, again at leisure, reported the matter to the city police, and two men in plain clothes were sent to make preliminary inquiries. Not being able to ascertain anything definite, they began to put in practise their own methods of extracting evidence. They caned a suspected boy in order to try and get him to confess, and also one of his companions who they supposed might know something about it. I myself saw the marks of the cane on the boys. The punishment would not have been excessive supposing they had been convicted of the offence. The police were also said to have beaten a labouring man in order to extort a confession, because there was a rumour that the boys had given the clock to him.
The village, usually friendly and easygoing, began to get much exercised over these attentions of the police. The Patel, a foolish and dissipated young man, found his liberty seriously curtailed by having frequently to attend the City Police Court to report progress. The village Mahars, or low-caste men, are liable to be called upon amongst their other duties to serve as village constables. These men were getting tired of having to act as escort to the boys and others, who were being summoned daily to the court, often being kept waiting there for the whole day. A large deputation of villagers arrived at the Mission bungalow to protest, and my assurances that none of these proceedings arose from any promptings of mine were only partially believed.
We were left in peace for a week or so, and I hoped that the matter was at an end. But the police woke up again, and set upon Bhau, the son of the Mission gardener, on the ground that he cleaned the school and thus had access to the clock. Bhau was not a particularly estimable character, but having helped to clean the school for many years, it did not seem likely that he should suddenly have taken it into his head to steal an old clock. But it is a disturbing feature of police inquiries in remote districts, that they feel that anything is better than to let the crime pass into the category of offences the perpetrators of which have not been discovered.
It was now the turn of Bhau and his relations to appear daily at the city court. For a time no cruelty was perpetrated, until one afternoon two police appeared in the village and beat Bhau in the village chowdi, or place of assembly, and they ordered him to attend the court again the next day. As soon as I heard what had happened, I was naturally as indignant as the villagers, and went myself to the court with the boy. I was quickly taken to the Hindu police inspector of the district in which Yerandawana is situated. In him I found a courteous, English-speaking Brahmin, who promised to come himself and look into the matter. He did so, examined Bhau, asked various questions, and promised that the conduct of the police should be investigated.
Meanwhile I had written a letter of complaint to the District Superintendent of Police, and two inspectors, one a Mohammedan, the other a Hindu, were sent to hold a formal inquiry. One of these men revealed something of their methods, when engaged in collecting evidence, by remarking to me that "a few slaps would not be of much consequence, but that anything of the nature of cruelty must not be allowed." It was only in response to my assertion that nothing whatever of the nature of punishment must be used in order to obtain evidence, that he said, "Of course not. It must be stopped altogether."
The labouring man who was said to have been beaten was called to give evidence. But unfortunately the policeman who was supposed to have done this was sitting outside, and beckoning to him, got a word with him before I realised what was taking place, and the man denied that he had been beaten. I was glad to see that the inspectors showed real indignation at this attempt to tamper with a witness. They were both very polite, and in examining the village boys tried to copy our paternal way of speaking to them, with rather comical results. When it transpired that one of the boys was an orphan, the Mohammedan Inspector said in English, "Oh dear! sad, sad," as if it was the first case of the kind he had ever met with, and he recommended the boy to seek refuge in the Mission orphanage.
Although they professed to be indignant with the police, and said that they would be severely punished, I was not altogether surprised at the nature of the report which they ultimately sent to the District Superintendent, a copy of which was forwarded to me. It was accompanied by a memorandum, saying that the charges appeared to have been considerably exaggerated, but that the constable who was reported to have "slapped" the boys had been "transferred to headquarters," whatever that might mean.
That irregular proceedings on the part of the police were only stayed with difficulty by the force of English interference and emphatic words and letters, suggests how hopeless may be the position of any unhappy mortal in out-of-the-way places on whom the police choose to father a charge. Many tales are told of the ingenious barbarities still practised in the endeavour to extort confessions from suspected persons, or unwilling witnesses, and it is to be feared that these tales are not without foundation. The apparent tendency of some English officials to make light of complaints, does not give much room for hope that the evil system will be quickly eradicated.
Even supposing that torture was justifiable on the ground that it leads to the detection of crime, the actual result is probably quite the reverse. It certainly leads to false confessions. People in their fear are tempted to say that they have done a certain thing, in order to escape from present pain. It has often been urged that confessions made by prisoners to the Indian police should not be accepted as evidence, and this is a reform urgently needed. The trouble to which the police subjected our villagers will not deter them from committing offences, but it has convinced them, from the Patel down to the Mahars, that if in the future there is any wrongdoing in the village, anything is preferable to invoking the aid of the police. And that is a serious result, because in an out-of-the-way village, if the Patel takes no action, almost any crime, even murder, could be committed, and the fact need never be known.
It should, however, be added that the detection of wrongdoers is beset in India with peculiar difficulties. The presence of serious crime in a certain locality may be a sufficiently self-evident fact, and yet it may be years before it is brought home to its real authors. The Western rogue often betrays himself by his clumsy efforts to escape. The Eastern wrongdoer never commits this mistake. While the police are searching for him far and wide, he is very likely all the time living in their midst.
In the smaller sphere of a household or school, there is a similar difficulty in discovering the real origin of some irregularity. Thieving may go on in a certain bungalow; all kinds of people are suspected, almost always the wrong ones; if the police are called in, they generally lay the guilt on one of the poorer class of servants, who in sheer fright at being accused, and with the dread of torture in his mind, is almost ready to say that he is guilty. Innocent servants are sometimes thoughtlessly discharged without character, only on suspicion. Not unfrequently, even before the excitement has subsided, fresh thefts occur, showing that the thief is still at large. And if he is ever found out, which is not by any means invariably the case, the chances are that he will prove to be somebody near at hand, who was supposed to be above suspicion.
Serious moral wrongs may go on in an Indian household quite unknown to most of its members, and so skilfully concealed that they may have existed for years without suspicion. Even when the matter has ultimately come to light, the head of the household is perhaps the last to learn what nearly everybody else knew. Many Indian schoolboys are ready enough to tell tales of each other concerning trifling matters, and Indian school authorities unfortunately rather encourage the habit, and the sneak does not get sent to Coventry as he ought to be. But when something serious has happened which it is the duty of the boys to report, it is rare to find amongst them one of sufficient force of character to enable him to do so, and the unembarrassed denial of any knowledge of the offence adds greatly to the difficulty of detecting the offender. Though there are brilliant exceptions, Christian principles rarely stand the test of truthfulness when really serious complications have arisen. And the Indian story-teller so seldom contradicts himself, and if he finds himself in a corner he gets out of it so readily, that it is difficult not to believe him, even when you have the strongest reasons for thinking that he is deceiving you.
In a certain boys' school it was known that some evil influence was at work, but it could not be traced to its root. When elder boys left who were thought to be possibly the cause of the evil, it was hoped that the trouble would cease. But several generations of boys passed out of the school, and the evil influence remained. When its source was discovered after some years, the clue was given by an almost chance remark of a small boy. The person who had so long been a centre of corruption had been so little suspected that, even after it had been brought home to him, it was difficult to understand how he had been able to secure concealment so effectually that no shadow of suspicion was ever aroused.
PROPERTY IN INDIA
Boundary stones. Government Survey Department. The village map. How the stones are placed; how to use them. The Hindu village clerk. Litigation in India. Lawyers' devices. Conversation about money. Poverty great. Christians and money. English fair-dealing not always apparent.
If you want to buy land in India, it is nearly always difficult to find out who is the real owner. But in one important point the British Government has made the transaction quite simple. When you are travelling through India in the train, the impression left upon you is that of a country which belongs to no one in particular, because there is often so little trace of any boundary between field and field. There are scarcely any hedges or walls, or when they exist they are so irregular and come to an end so unexpectedly, that they only add to the impression of vagueness of ownership. But the traveller, if he is observant of detail, will have noticed stones sticking up here and there, bearing some trace of having been shaped with a tool and painted or whitewashed, and apparently placed in their position for a definite object. Sometimes the stones stand alone, sometimes they are grouped in twos or threes or more. The traveller, vaguely mindful that the worship of stones is common amongst Hindus, concludes that these have been put there for religious purposes.
But that is not so. These are only the boundary stones planted by the Survey Department of the Government of India, perhaps one of the best organised and most useful of Government departments. The whole of India has been elaborately surveyed, and the maps are being continually revised and corrected, and brought up to date. When making the survey the boundary line of fields and other property was patiently and carefully investigated, objections and claims listened to, and an impartial decision arrived at. Each village has now its own map taken from the Survey. Not only every field and garden is clearly shown, but the position of all the boundary stones is marked, and they are arranged on a system which makes a mistake as to the limit of any property almost an impossibility: unless, indeed, any one "removeth his neighbour's landmark"; an offence which is not unknown, but for which the penalty is heavy.
The system is a simple one. A boundary stone is placed at the corner of a field, or wherever there is an angle, and the boundary is always drawn in a straight line from stone to stone. If four fields meet at a certain point there may be as many as five stones, one in the centre and one on each of the four boundary lines a few feet from the centre. The number and position of each stone being marked on the map, even villagers who cannot read or write are able to identify the different groups of stones by the number in each group, and the direction in which the additional stones are pointing.
For instance, you want to know the length and precise direction of one side of a plot of land. Often there is no indication on the ground itself of any boundary line at all, especially if it is uncultivated land—neither ditch, or wall, or tree, or any other mark. But you station yourself at the corner, and from thence look towards the stone, a few feet off, on the boundary line you want to fix. Now and then your line of vision is made doubly sure by a second stone two or three feet farther on. Then, far away, but exactly in a line with the stones which indicated your line of vision, you will catch sight of another boundary stone, and you know that that is the extent of the plot, or that at any rate there is an angle at that point. Whenever there is any doubt through a stone getting overgrown with vegetation, or displaced, the truth is easily got at by going to some other corner and taking the line from there.
Each field is numbered, and in the books kept by the village clerk, or accountant, the owner of each plot is recorded, and change of ownership, or any other matter of importance affecting the property, is supposed to be noted. The reason why, in spite of this, it is often difficult to come at the real owner, is that most Indian landowners are in difficulties through expenses incurred in the marriage of their children, so that their property more often than not is encumbered with mortgages. The average Hindu village clerk also is not to be depended on, and as they are dealing with illiterate people, they have many opportunities of falsifying village records. Also, the inveterate habit of procrastination leads to vagueness in the record, and transactions take place which are never noted. But there never can be any real doubt as to where each bit of property begins and ends, and that is a great boon.
Some of the educated lads of the Mission have got employment in the Survey Department, and find it an interesting sphere. Its only drawback for Christians is, that they are liable to be out in camp for months at a time in regions where Christian privileges are not to be had, or only at a great distance.
Disputes concerning the ownership of property lead to a good deal of that constant litigation which is such a curse in India, but which gives employment to innumerable lawyers of various grades. A young Indian barrister, who was proposing to go to a certain town to exercise his legal profession, explained to me why it was likely to be a favourable locality. The people, he said, were for the most part well-to-do, and that always meant a great deal of quarrelling concerning money and land. But they were at the same time very ignorant, and easily duped. He gave the following instance of the sort of thing which takes place:—A man comes into the "pleader," or lawyer's office, for a consultation. The pleader says: "Now, what sort of law shall I give you? If I take it out of this book" (taking up a black volume), "it will cost ten rupees. But if you want to have the best law out of this book" (taking up a red volume), "it will cost twenty rupees." The applicant probably agrees to take the twenty-rupee law out of the red volume, naturally thinking that the best law is the safest, even if it costs more.
It has been said that if you chance to hear two Indians talking together, the word "money," or something relating to it, will almost invariably be heard. In our crowded rural road, as villagers go to and fro in pairs or groups, I have often tested the truth of this proverbial saying. It is undoubtedly the case that perhaps in nine cases out of ten they are discussing past or prospective earnings, or some difficulty or quarrel connected with money matters. But this does not necessarily indicate a love of money in the Western sense of the expression. The majority of people in India are poor. The struggle even for the small sum required for daily bread is often acute. The conditions under which the majority of the poorer class of people have to do their work has been already described. Hence the injustice which they have received from their employers; hardships connected with money earned but not paid, or only in part; the ups and downs of the daily struggle for bread; these naturally form the burning questions of the day, and they are the natural topics of conversation amongst men and women. The very scarcity of money intensifies the temptation to think too much of it when it has been acquired. It is not uncommon to hear the critic of the Indian Christian say that he cares too much for money. On the whole, it would probably be true to say that he does not err more in this respect than the average Christian of the West. But he happily retains a good deal of natural simplicity of character and does not pretend to be different to what he really is, so that when he is importunate for a rise of salary he does not think it necessary to beat about the bush, or to appear to blush.
It is sometimes urged that though natives may dislike the often brusque manner of some Englishmen, they are more than compensated by getting in exchange English honesty and fair dealing. It is to be feared that this boast has its limitations. In a country where it is so difficult to find out what is the proper price of any article, because the vendor almost habitually asks far more than he expects to get, the new-comer naturally begins by paying too much. But after he has become aware of this he is apt to go into the opposite extreme, and he begins to pride himself on his cleverness in making bargains with the natives, and he often ends by paying too little, both for what he buys and for work done. There are even mission workers who have got their influence discredited in this way. The strength of his standing as a European makes it almost impossible for an ordinary native to get redress, if he has been wronged in his dealings with an Englishman. Servants often suffer a good deal from petty injustice.
EAST AND WEST TRAVELLING
Indian railway travellers. English rudeness; instances of this. Seeing off the Collector; his exclusiveness. The "white man's ship." Courtesy of Indians. The European and Eurasian compartment.
It is when travelling by train that East and West are most liable to tread on each other's toes. Formerly first and second-class carriages were used almost exclusively by Europeans. Of late years the number of Indians travelling in these classes has greatly increased. This is partly because at one time all passengers were subject to medical inspection, in order to see whether they were suffering from plague or not, but those who were not travelling third-class got many exemptions in the process. Also the well-to-do Indian has gradually got into the habit of travelling second-class in order to escape the mixed crowd of the Indian third-class, where he may find himself compelled to sit next a low-caste man whose touch may defile him.
On the other hand, they often meet with a great deal of rudeness from certain English people, who resent the intrusion of a "native" into their carriage. Even some men who ought to know better are guilty in this respect. But it should also be remembered that men of very little education or refinement come out to India for the sake of the higher pay and position which they can secure in a variety of spheres. Some men of this stamp are apt to give themselves great airs, and they think to show their importance by their rudeness to the people of the country.
I once saw a man of this type in a railway carriage shove an Indian to one side with considerable violence, and take his seat. The Indian was a refined gentleman, much his superior both by birth and education, and speaking English excellently. He was reading a volume of Mark Twain for his recreation in the train. Although a good deal disturbed by the rudeness which he had received, he did not lose his temper, but remonstrated in emphatic but courteous language.
"'I say, guard, there is a native in this compartment; he must go somewhere else.' That is the kind of speech which hurts our feelings," said an Indian gentleman to me, who was my companion in the train for two nights and a day. "And yet," he said, "that is the sort of thing I am frequently subjected to, because I have to travel a good deal. Is it to be wondered at if we don't feel much love towards Englishmen, when they treat us in this way?"
I saw a Scotch doctor, engaged on plague inspection duty at a railway station, kick with savage violence a porter who accidently got in his way on the platform.
If you see a little crowd of bowing, smiling, well-dressed Indians at a station, gathered round a young Englishman in a sun tope, who is talking to them affably, and trying not to look embarrassed by the garland of flowers which they have put round his neck, you may know that it is probably the Collector, or Commissioner, of the district, who is being seen off by some of his constituents. The one or two attendants in blue coats and red turbans, and sashes with large brass plates upon them, waiting in the background, are the messengers, with which all Government officials are liberally supplied. The Collector is the practical ruler of the locality over which he is set to preside, and situations are constantly arising which demand a great deal of tact and wise judgment. That Collectors frequently win, not only the respect, but also the confidence and regard of the people over whom they have been set, is an instance of the capacity of the young Englishman, who is in earnest, to rise up to his responsibilities.
Nevertheless he remains an Englishman for all that. A Collector whom I knew, having had his usual "send off," travelled in the next carriage to myself. At a roadside station a Hindu judge made for the first-class carriage in which the Collector had established himself. Although he had been exceedingly courteous to the Indian gentry who had seen him off, he bitterly resented the intrusion of the Hindu judge. The latter was not to be rebuffed, and was determined to exercise his right to travel in a carriage in which there was plenty of room. The Collector accordingly called his servant, indignantly gathered up his belongings, and, having first come to the window of my carriage to tell me of his troubles, took refuge in some other part of the train.
"Well, this is a pretty state of things, when you find a native in a cabin!" said a young military officer to me, when he saw an Indian go into the adjoining cabin on board ship. "If he has paid for his berth, he has a right to it," I said; "besides, he is not in your cabin." "Well I did think that a P. & O. was a white man's ship," replied the young officer with great bitterness.
"No doubt you missionaries have learnt to get over the prejudice," said a delightful young army captain to me on board the same ship, "and I suppose it is very wrong of me; but I positively hate a black man."
Though there are certain drawbacks connected with some native passengers, they are much more courteous than the average Englishman is, even to his own countrymen. The stranger, who at some wayside station, intrudes into a carriage already sufficiently full, does not expect to be welcomed. At night the large clerical sun hat meets with a specially cold reception from the Englishman, who peeps out at the intruder from beneath his blankets. But the Indian traveller will assure you that there is plenty of room. He will cheerfully help you with your luggage, clearing away his own belongings in order to make space for yours; and on one occasion an Indian insisted on my taking his berth, while he himself sat up on a corner of a seat for the rest of the night.
However good the intentions of kindly Englishmen may be when travelling, it is almost impossible to avoid the appearance of acquiescing in arrangements which are trying to the Indian. On most lines there are third-class compartments reserved for Europeans and Eurasians. The arrangement is not merely to protect the Englishman from the intrusion of native fellow-passengers. The Hindu is at least equally unwilling to have the white man as an intruder in his own part of the train, and it is generally understood that just as the native must not trespass into the European compartments, so on his part the Englishman should keep out of the carriages allotted to Indians.
Not being able to find the usual European compartment on a certain train, I asked the young Eurasian ticket-collector whereabouts it was. "There is not one on the train," he said, "but I will soon make one." And going to one of the native compartments, already fairly filled with people, he said rudely and roughly: "Here, I say, you have all got to clear out of that." The Eurasian is inclined to imitate what he thinks to be correct English style, by talking in a blustering way to those whom he contemptuously styles "natives." The Indians, slowly and unwillingly, but silently, transferred themselves and their many belongings to another carriage, and then they saw three members of the ruling race take their places in a carriage seated for twenty-eight.
CUSTOMS OF EAST AND WEST
The up-to-date Hindu traveller; his outfit. Habits of East and West so different. The English toothbrush. The Indian's toilet; its publicity. Women's dress. Taking food with the fingers; defence of the custom; the touch of the meat-eater. Servants of Europeans. English hospitality restricted by caste. The Rajah's dinner-party. Instance of mutual misunderstanding. Regrettable results of rudeness. The true religion unites.
In spite of the fact that East and West do not always hit it off happily together when travelling, it is then, more than at any other time, that the up-to-date Hindu tries to follow European customs. His bedding, his pillows, his rug-straps, his tin travelling trunk, are all modelled on English lines; although excess of colour and ornamentation indicate Indian taste, and the articles themselves partake either of the flimsy nature of most Indian modern productions, or else they are cheap goods from Europe made expressly for the foreign market. He is nicely dressed in European clothes, but he wears a turban which he takes off and puts up on the rack, just as the Englishman does with his sun tope, displaying either a pigtail of varying dimensions, or else hair cut in English fashion, and the pigtail so reduced that it is invisible. He has a watch which he often consults, and he is interested in the punctuality or otherwise of the train, and will perhaps verify this by frequent reference to his time-table. Possibly he will amuse himself by reading an English magazine or novel from the bookstall. Yet, in spite of this outward conformity to the English model, he is still as completely an Indian, and as little of an Englishman, as when he wore his dhota, or even when he thought his loin-cloth sufficient clothing. The result of this is that, except where the crowded state of the train makes it impossible, the Englishman and the Indian as a rule naturally gravitate into different compartments, not from mutual antipathy, but because the habits of the two nations are so different that travelling together makes practical difficulties.
The nature of some of these mutual difficulties may be indicated. Indians are extremely particular about cleaning their teeth. But the English custom of using a toothbrush, which is only renewed after a period of uncertain duration, is looked upon by the Indian as a most objectionable practice. To retain, and to carry about with you in your bag an instrument which has been used for such a purpose, he feels to be an indication of great want of refinement. His own "toothbrush" is the first finger of his right hand, sometimes supplemented by a small twig taken from a certain tree, which twig he throws away after the operation. The process is carried out with immense energy, and it is accompanied by alarming guttural sounds. The manipulator has with him a brass vessel, from which he takes deep draughts of water, which he squirts out again with great force. He generally chooses a public place for this toilet operation, such as the front doorstep of his house in a crowded street. The extraordinary publicity given to many domestic matters, with which we are accustomed to associate the idea of privacy, tries the feelings of the Englishman just as much as the sensibilities of the Indian are shocked by the permanent toothbrush.
To the new-comer from England the dress of the average Indian woman looks rather scanty. But, on the other hand, the skirts of English ladies, sometimes trailing behind them, and possibly gathering up unknown defilements, awaken in the Indian feelings of disgust.
No Hindu, of whatever rank, would ever think of taking food in his own country except with his fingers. In serving rice and other food to guests at a feast, the hand is always the agent used for the purpose. Indian Christians, except the few who have become completely Europeanised, rarely take their food in any other way. The arguments used by an Indian in defence of the custom were reasonable. "We always wash," he said, "before we eat, so we know that everybody's hand is clean. And after the meal, before we go to other duties, we wash our hands again. You, on the contrary," he went on to say, "eat with spoons and forks which have been in the mouths of hundreds of different people. You leave them to be cleaned by servants who often do the work carelessly, and who are perhaps dirty themselves."
Using fingers habitually, instead of spoons and forks, is popularly looked upon as indicative of rudimentary civilisation. But it should be added that those who have always been accustomed to eat with their fingers do so with dexterity and neatness. And no one who has seen Indians at their meals would be disposed to say that this method of eating suggests the idea of lack of refinement. But to eat rice elegantly with the fingers needs that your Indian social education should have begun in early childhood.
The Hindu's objection to having his food or water touched by Christians or people of low-caste arose, not so much from any notion of inferiority of station, but chiefly from the nature of the food of these classes. It was the touch of the meat-eater, in the days when the Hindu was more strict in his observances than he is now, which brought pollution. Contact with Christians was obnoxious because they eat all kinds of meat, including the sacred cow. Low-caste Hindus were much to be avoided, because they even eat animals which have died from natural causes. The Hindu servants of most Europeans are chiefly drawn from the ranks of this class, because they are the only Hindus who are willing to handle dishes containing the uncanny food of the Englishman.
Nowadays meat is eaten more or less frequently, either openly or in secret, by nearly all classes. But to the orthodox Hindu it is a matter of wonder that we allow people of what he considers a degraded class to minister to our wants. The native women who act as ladies' maids and nurses, and who are said to be handy and adept, are mostly drawn from the same class, and many Indians are puzzled that an Englishman should be willing that his wife and children should be ministered to by these women.
Governors and other important Government officials make formal calls on leading Hindus in native cities, and stay for ten minutes or so talking polite platitudes, and the Hindu in return puts in an appearance at the Governor's levee. But this, though good as far as it goes, does not do much towards bringing about real mutual understanding. The caste restrictions, which make it impossible for an orthodox Hindu to take food with a Christian, add greatly to the difficulty. A dinner-party in which English and Indians were judiciously intermixed, if it were possible, would do much towards bridging over the gulf. When Indian Rajahs entertain English guests, which they do in English style on a most lavish scale and with truly princely hospitality, the host himself cannot share in the meal, and only puts in an appearance at the end of the banquet to take part in the speech-making.
Here is a curious instance of a complete misunderstanding, arising entirely from the different customs of East and West. A Brahmin student told me, as an example of the intolerance of the British, that a young Indian friend of his in London had been requested by an English family to leave the house because he had bare feet. I asked for particulars, and the Brahmin said that the young Indian, having a letter of introduction to this family, went to present it. As the day was very hot, while he was waiting in the drawing-room he took off his shoes and stockings. In his own country this would have been a perfectly natural thing to do. In fact, in his own home ordinary politeness would have made him leave his shoes at the door. The maidservant who had ushered him in, returning for some purpose, was amazed to see what the visitor had done, and went and reported the fact to her mistress. She, probably thinking that they had either a madman or a would-be thief to deal with, sent to request him to leave the house, which he did indignantly, and wrote to his friends in India to tell them how he had been insulted by the proud English.
The rudeness of the thoughtless or ill-bred Englishman is very regrettable, because it is productive of that feeling of soreness which lies at the bottom of a great deal of the smouldering discontent which, from time to time, makes itself apparent amongst the upper classes in India. And some of the younger Indian men try to retaliate as far as they dare, by being in their turn off-hand and cheeky. There are indications that the same sort of spirit is spreading to some of the lower classes, which might easily become a source of serious danger. Anyhow it tends to make the process of amalgamation between the two races increasingly difficult and slow.
There is a great charm about many Indians, and by those who set themselves in earnest to understand them and to cultivate their friendship, a great deal of happy progress can be made. But it must always be remembered that there cannot be complete unity of heart without the true religion, and it is only by their mutual incorporation into the household of God that Indians and Englishmen will become one nation.
SERVANTS IN INDIA
Government officials and missions. The honest native Christian. Christian servants. Housekeeping in India. The heathen butler. The Dasara festival. Countenance of Hinduism. The visitors to Parbatti. The festival of the cattle. S. Anthony's Day.
There are a few Government officials in India who are not disposed to smile on missionary enterprise, or on those engaged in it. They think that natives had better be left to themselves, so far as religion is concerned, and that the efforts of the missionary are a disturbing element; and his reasonable complaints to officials of this type about ordinary matters, such as the state of the roads in his district, or the supply of water, often meet with slight recognition, or none at all. How far this attitude on the part of the official may be due to the faults, or want of tact of the missionary, I cannot say. Want of appreciation of what missions are doing for the people of a country often arises merely from lack of knowledge, and most Government officials show generous recognition of the work, and give it their kindly aid, when they come into real contact with it and its results.
It was a pleasant relief from the stereotyped "board-ship" saying, that all native Christians are rascals, to hear the following from one of the engineers of the great irrigation system of the Panjab. In the course of ordinary conversation he happened to say that, in all his experiences, he had only met with one really honest native, and that he was a Christian. "In fact," he went on to say, "the other men led him such a life, just because he was honest, that I had to transfer him to a new district." This testimony was the more significant, because there is no sphere in which there are greater opportunities of exacting unlawful commission than in the department which deals with the distribution of water.
The common criticism of the casual Englishman, when he is talking about missions, that a Hindu servant is better than a Christian one, has an element of truth in it. That is to say, the Christian servant will not be so submissive as the heathen one. His Christianity has developed his grit, and he will be less willing to put up with injustice, or violent language, or the habit, once common but now almost universally reprobated, of cutting his pay as a punishment for offences real or imaginary. He will not be quite so ready to be on duty for unlimited periods at his master's pleasure, and he will expect to be allowed time to go to church. Some of these new characteristics may be of the nature of defects, but they also mean that he is more of a man than he was in his heathen days. And as regards honesty and general trustworthiness, although every Indian Christian is not altogether impeccable, he is on a completely different plane to his heathen comrade. It is also an unspeakable relief, to anyone whose Christianity is something more than form, to have Christian servants round about you.
Housekeeping in India is either difficult or very easy, according to the view that is taken of the moral responsibility of a householder. If you feel it a duty, or if poverty compels you, to endeavour not to allow yourself to be cheated, the process of housekeeping will become a contest between you and your heathen servants in which, in spite of your vigilance, you will be continually worsted. If, on the other hand, you are reconciled not to worry much about prices, and if you do not grudge the traditional gifts of certain seasons, you can obtain what is probably the most efficient and devoted service in the world. Your head-servant will take the entire responsibility of your establishment. When he has learnt what your wishes are, he will see that his underlings carry them out to the letter. Meals will be admirably served, and you will be waited on noiselessly and graciously. Your own unpunctuality, your unreasonableness, the sudden arrival of unexpected guests, none of these things will disturb the admirable serenity of your Hindu or Mohammedan Indian butler. And whatever the emergency, you will find him equal to the occasion. But in return for this, you must not grumble because at every turn, and in every transaction, he is privately supplementing his official income.
Those who employ Christian servants would do well to remember that they ought to take care to pay them somewhat in excess of the small wages which will satisfy a Hindu. Otherwise they will find it difficult to live, and may be tempted to practise the same methods by which the heathen servant probably doubles his receipts.
There is a popular Hindu festival called the Dasara, and this is one of the days when stable-servants expect to be tipped, unless they know that their master disapproves of Hindu ceremonies. On that day horses are decorated and garlanded, and the grooms bring them round to the front verandah of the bungalow in order to obtain the expected recognition. Care needs to be taken to see that, in the desire to be kind, a sort of tacit countenance of Hinduism is not involved. English visitors to India unthinkingly are sometimes remiss in this respect. There is a hill just outside Poona City called Parbatti. It is a well-known centre of idol worship, and for this reason many visitors climb up it out of curiosity, but also to see the view. One of the custodians of the temples, after showing an English priest the idols, etc., asked for a contribution towards "the support of the temple," as he expressed it. And in spite of the terms in which the request was couched, the priest gave an offering, to the astonishment of his better instructed lay companion.
Hindus have a festal day for their cattle, called Bile polar, on which they give them extra food; their horns are coloured and decorated with gold paper and long tassels made of the fibrous roots of a shrub, and a variety of devices are imprinted on their bodies in red paint, generally circles or the outstretched hand. The biggest bull of the chief man of the village sometimes wears a sort of crown, or some farmer who is well-to-do drapes his best cattle in ornamental cloths, reaching nearly to the ground on each side. The people also set up clay models of cattle in their houses at this season, to which they do reverence. When the cattle have been decorated they are driven, with shouting and noise, up to a temple; and the fact that it is their festal day does not save them from the whacks which the boys bestow upon them freely in order to hurry them on. Some of their owners go into the temple and worship the god, and soon afterwards the cattle are driven back with the same demonstrations to their respective homes.
It used to be the custom (and perhaps may be still) for horses to be driven past the Pope on the Feast of S. Anthony (the patron saint of animals), and he blessed them as they went by. It is good that the creatures who do us faithful service should be gratefully remembered. The Hindu festival of the animals might possibly be Christianised. Their generous rations and their gay decorations, with the exception of the paint marks on their bodies, are customs which might be retained, and they might be brought in joyful procession to the church door on S. Anthony's Day to be blessed by the parish priest.
THE EDUCATED HINDU
Education divorced from religion. Its effects on character; instance of this in Babaji. Wealth will not purchase social position. The new bungalow. Quarrels with the contractor. Indians nervous about thieves. Night raids. Robberies amongst plague refugees. Skilful thieves. Babaji's inconsistency; removing his neighbour's landmark. The future of the bungalow. Airy houses unpopular. Preference for apparent discomfort.
There are many opportunities in India of studying the effect on character of education when divorced from religion. The effect on a few has been that the cultivation of their mental gifts in secular study has helped them to understand and assimilate Christian truth. Others, with a natural propensity for evil, have had their capacities for mischief quickened by the varied knowledge which they acquired. But with the vast majority of Indians, and more especially Hindus, English secular education does not alter their character, and except for the assumption of a few European externals, they remain exactly the same as they were before. Even many of those who go to England, if they do not take up some definite profession on their return, drop back so entirely into their former manner of life that you would hardly suppose it credible that they had ever been out of their own country.
If you live amongst the people you will frequently meet with examples of this kind of thing. And it should be observed that it is generally in a man's ordinary everyday life that his real nature comes out. Here is an illustration:—A Hindu, who was by caste a brass-worker, had been for some years in the important position of assistant collector. His father having been a good English scholar and a great reader of books, both in that language and in Marathi, had given his son an education which enabled him to rise to the responsible post which he ultimately filled. He, in his turn, educated his sons carefully, and they knew English well. The family possessed houses and land, so that, together with the father's official income, they were well off.
But in India wealth will not purchase social position, as it does to some degree in the West. Money is not powerful enough to override caste. The members of this family, whom we will call Babaji, did their best to pose as high-caste people, and were ready to dispense lavish hospitality if it would have been accepted; but Brahmins ignored them, and they never seemed to associate on equal terms with anyone except members of their own caste, or those below it.
When the father of the family retired on his pension, he returned to his own district and prepared to settle down. Besides a house in the city, they had a sufficiently habitable one in a large garden in a village in the Poona district. But the old grandfather had died in this country house, and was said to haunt it. Servants refused to stay there, and none of the family would live there. So they pulled it down and prepared to build a new house in another garden.
I had an opportunity of watching the whole progress of this project, and it gave me a good deal of insight into the character that Hinduism creates. Babaji having seen something of English ways during his term of office as collector, prepared to build the sort of house which would suit an Englishman. It was conveniently planned, and had many doors and windows and large verandahs. He also employed a contractor of some repute. The house was quickly built, and would have been an excellent one in all respects but for certain economies which Babaji insisted on, to the great indignation of the contractor. He bought a set of old doors and windows from a house in Bombay which was being pulled down, and had them adapted to his new bungalow. And having been accustomed to deal with petty contractors, with whom it is customary to carry on a perpetual war of words, he tried the same plan with his present builder, and whenever he came to inspect, railed at him for faulty work and bad materials.
I asked him why he did this, when there was nothing to justify his complaints. He said that it was the only way of keeping men up to their work. There is also an underlying idea that if the cry of faulty construction is uttered with sufficient persistency, it will give an excuse for cutting down the final bill. Babaji made an effort in this direction also, but the contractor said that unless he got his money he should take the matter into court, and refused to have anything more to do with the job. After much fierce wrangling, the latter came triumphantly one day to show me the cheque which Babaji had just written for him.
So Babaji was left to finish off his bungalow in his own way, and I think that on the whole he was rather glad, because he could now do things more in accordance with his own ideas. The English type of bungalow is not really suited to Indian taste. A dark, windowless house with an earthen floor is where the ordinary Indian feels most at home. The first thing that Babaji did when left to himself was to put iron bars to the windows to keep out thieves, and to close in the fronts of his verandahs in the same way, so that they looked like cages in the Zoological Gardens. Most Indians live in constant dread of nocturnal thieves, and their fear is not entirely without justification. In years gone by the raids made by robbers in villages were sufficiently alarming. These depredators went to great lengths in their efforts to induce women to declare where their gold and silver ornaments were hidden. The threat to cut off their nose was not an empty one, if we can trust the statement that in those days the sight of a woman thus disfigured was not uncommon.
More efficient police supervision has done much to prevent these organised raids, although they are still not unknown. But ordinary night thieves are apt to come along wherever they think there is plunder, and this type of Indian thief is as skilful in reality as he is proverbially said to be. The habit of hiding money, instead of investing it usefully, or the common custom of turning it into ornaments for women, makes the visit of a thief to the house of a well-to-do Indian likely to be lucrative.
When people moved out from the city because of plague and camped in the surrounding villages, they were much troubled by thieves. The refugees were afraid to leave their valuables in their shut-up homes in the city, lest the house should be raided in their absence; and yet, lodging in tents and frail huts, it was very difficult to circumvent the robbers. Many people camped as close as they could get to the Mission settlement at Yerandawana, under the idea that thieves avoid the neighbourhood of Europeans. Nevertheless an extraordinarily clever robbery took place in a hut exactly opposite the Mission gateway. This hut was built of split bamboos tied to a wooden framework and then plastered with mud. A house of this kind, carefully put together, affords good shelter, and when the mud peels off it can easily be repaired. A widow with her sister and little daughter lived in this shelter during plague time. Their fortunes were invested in the precarious form of personal jewellery. At night these ornaments were put into two boxes, which they placed under the cot on which one of the women slept, in order, as they thought, to be quite secure against thieves. In spite of this precaution they woke up one morning to find their treasure gone. Thieves had dug under the walls of the house and had made an opening large enough to creep through. How they were able to do this without waking the inmates, and how they took the boxes from under the bed and got away with them unobserved, a light having been kept burning in the room, is one of the mysteries of Indian crime. The boxes were found, broken open and empty, a few fields off, but the thieves were never detected. I myself saw the burrow through which they got in.
Babaji had built his new bungalow immediately behind two dilapidated cottages, in which he had sometimes lodged during brief visits to the country. Everyone took for granted that he would pull down these cottages when the new house was ready. They abutted on to the front verandah, and occupied the ground which would naturally form the approach to the house. But when Babaji, with pardonable pride, was showing me round the completed house, he told me that he had decided to retain the two cottages; they would be useful as cookroom and storeroom; besides, they had been built by his father, and so out of respect to his memory he would wait till they fell down of themselves. I represented to him what a barbaric arrangement it was, but without effect, and next day he was busy making a passage-way from the new bungalow into one of the old cottages.
His next exploit was to try and acquire a strip of land by removing his neighbour's landmark. Babaji wanted to build stables and other out-buildings. In digging his foundations he purposely encroached about four feet over his boundary line. When the owner remonstrated he endeavoured by bluster to carry the thing through. He pointed to a bogus boundary stone of his own planting, and called in the village clerk to certify that there was an error in the village map, and that the real boundary line was as Babaji represented it to be; the average Hindu village clerk being ready to certify anything you like, if you make it worth his while to do so. The owner of the land seated himself on the disputed plot and defied the workmen to continue their operations. The dispute continued for some days, waxing more and more furious, until the owner and the contractor at last came to blows—a form of demonstration which in India is impressive in appearance, but the amount of damage done is infinitesimal. I was then asked to act as arbitrator in the case. I declined; but I told Babaji that he was totally in the wrong. Finally, after all this waste of time and temper, he gave up the struggle and withdrew his forces to within the proper limit.
That a man of education, who had himself been a magistrate, should have made this attempt to filch a strip of land off his neighbour might seem unaccountable. But his natural Indian characteristics, when circumstances prompted it, came uppermost, and his English training for the time being went to the wall.
The new bungalow proved after all to be a white elephant. The water-supply was limited, and without plenty of water Babaji said he could not live there. His servants, who were city people, said that if he went to live in the country they would not go with him. So the bungalow awaits the day, which we sometimes dream of, when it may fall into our hands and become a convalescent home for Indians, which is a great need, and for which it is admirably adapted.
Houses built by English missionaries for Indian mission workers are, as a rule, not at all the kind of abode which the tenants really like. A row of cottages, built some years ago in Poona City for Indian Christians, has never been popular; chiefly because, besides many doors and windows, there are ventilators in the roof which cannot be closed. In more than one mission school some of the doors and windows have had to be permanently bricked up, because both teachers and children complained so much of the cold. Visions of tidy cottages for Indian Christians gradually get dispelled. Here and there a home-like dwelling is to be found, but they are scarce. A young married girl, who had been brought up in refined surroundings and had an unusually comfortable home when first married, had to live for a time in the open sheds and apparent discomfort of a plague camp. Instead of disliking it she settled in with great contentment, cooked her own dinner in the open, and was evidently more at home than in her well-built house. This also, as time went on, gradually lost its original look of comfort. Hens, and goats, and cow-dung cakes, and rubbish of all sorts by degrees got the upper hand, and proportionate to the increase of apparent discomfort was the increase of contentment in the minds of the young couple who lived there.
UNFINISHED PLANS IN INDIA
Houses begun and never completed. The projected laundry. Abandoned wells. Shunker sinks a well; he gets tired of it; failure of his second well; begins again at his first well; destructive blasting operations; finally gives up the plan.
The marks left of projects begun but never finished is a common and discouraging sight in India. There is scarcely a village which does not bear evidence of this. A man prepares to build a new house. You are astonished at the large blocks of stone, neatly cut and well laid, with which he commences. If you ask him about it, he will tell you of the beautiful superstructure which is to come on the top of the plinth which he is now building. But after a while the work begins to slacken; the men employed gradually diminish in number. You ask the cause, and various reasons will be assigned—scarcity of stone, lack of water, and the like. Finally the work ceases, probably never to be resumed. The owner has got tired of the project, or, not having counted the cost, the treasury has run dry. Sometimes after a long delay, he will build a miserable mud-house on the top of his handsome stone plinth. But in innumerable villages you will find examples of unfinished houses which have remained in that condition for generations.
In Poona City there are conspicuous instances of the same thing. Nearly all the better-class native houses are very substantially framed in wood, the spaces within the frames being filled in with bricks, set in either mud or mortar, according to the quality of the house. The framework of a two-or three-storied house is often completed, sometimes including the roof and tiling, before the brickwork has been commenced. In different parts of the city may be seen the framework of large and handsome houses which have never advanced beyond that stage, and have remained for years melancholy-looking skeletons.
Hindus often have projects which are purely castles in the air, and it is difficult to know whether the projector is deceiving himself, or whether it is merely in the spirit of boastfulness, that he speaks of the great things that he is going to do. A middle-aged Brahmin called at the Yerandawana Mission bungalow and said that he was going to start a laundry on a large scale in the village. It was to be thoroughly up to date. He was going to get the most modern machinery from America. He would only accept as customers those who sent to the wash at least a dozen articles a week. The two or three-article man he should refuse. He had called, he said, to solicit the custom of the Boys' Home. We were able to give him, readily enough, a qualified promise of support, and from that day to this we have heard no more of the modern laundry.
There is no more valuable asset in rural India than a good well. Hence many landowners begin to sink one. But with the propensity to begin and not to finish, there are multitudes of unfinished, and therefore useless, wells. There is a wide stretch of land between the Mission field at Yerandawana and the low range of hills on which the boys are so fond of rambling. It is only water which is wanted to make this tract productive. Dependent as it now is on the uncertain rainfall of the monsoon, an occasional and ragged crop, which often never comes into ear, is all that it ever produces. More often than not the farmers who own the property do not think it worth the labour and expense of cultivation. Two attempts have been made to sink wells, and both have been abandoned for years. In the case of one of these wells at least, water had actually been reached, and if they had gone down a little deeper there was every probability of an adequate supply. But abandoned schemes are hardly ever taken up again, and these two wells will remain unfinished to the end of time.
A near neighbour, whom we will call Shunker, determined to sink a well. He discoursed to me at great length on the advantage of being independent of the canal water for the irrigation of his land. He also described the powerful pump, worked by a windmill, which would supersede the old-fashioned method of raising water by means of bullocks.
The sinking of the well commenced with great energy. Shunker remained on the spot the whole day in order to see that the men did not idle. Friends and neighbours came and sat around and advised, and speculated how soon they would reach water. Shunker was confident that a depth of 15 feet would be sufficient. The ground, however, was very hard, and the men soon reached solid rock and blasting became necessary. Shunker was full of importance over this, and before an explosion took place rushed up and down the road in great excitement, warning travellers to halt. His interest in the well continued until the commencement of the rainy season obliged him to knock off for a while.
But when the time came to resume operations Shunker's zeal had begun to flag. The well was already 15 feet deep and there was no sign of water, except that which had fallen during the monsoon. Shunker was growing uneasy at the amount of money which he had spent. Work was resumed, but only languidly. Then there came gaps of several weeks when no work was done at all, and finally it stopped altogether, and the scheme was apparently abandoned. Shunker, not knowing what to do with the piles of stone which had accumulated from his excavation, erected an immense shed with it in his yard, which he said would give shelter to his bullocks. But it was piled up unskilfully, and being without mortar, it soon became a ruin.
Indians do not always profit by experience. It might be supposed that Shunker would hardly care to risk further experiments concerning wells. But following the advice of his father, an apparently shrewd man, he sunk another well in another garden. This time a European firm took the contract, and the cost was heavy. The spot chosen necessitated an unusually high platform for the bullocks who raise the water, which added a good deal to the expense. But a fatal mistake was made in the spot chosen for the well. It was sunk close to the bank of a river whose bed was many feet below it, and though they tapped a spring which would probably have provided a good store of water, it soon found its way out of the well to the lower level of the river, and the amount of water which remained was never deep enough to be of use. So this rather imposing-looking empty well stands as a conspicuous monument of an ill-advised scheme, involving total loss of the money that it cost.
Somehow the failure of this second well stimulated Shunker, contrary to expectations, to recommence work at his first well, and in order that the job should be done thoroughly, he enlisted the aid of the sappers and miners to conduct the blasting operations. The result was that the Mission compound adjoining became like Lady-smith during the siege. The explosions were terrific, and stones, some of large size, fell in all parts of the compound. A bit of rock fell on the stable, smashing a dozen tiles. Another stone travelled an immense distance, and falling on the Sisters' bungalow, broke three of the large Mangalore tiles, so famous in India for their rainproof qualities, but proving themselves unequal to the resistance of bombs. Urgent remonstrances were for a time unavailing. Shunker called, and in polite English expressed his great sorrow that his operations should have caused us annoyance. But the siege continued with unabated vigour. At last the actual bit of rock which contained the charge rose out of the well to a great height at the time of the explosion, and then half buried itself in the ground immediately behind the schoolmaster's house. If it had chanced to fall on anybody it would have killed him on the spot. The display of this piece of rock had the desired effect, and the sappers and miners were withdrawn. The work was continued in more homely fashion with ordinary blasting powder. With this the process is slower, but it is effective, and does not devastate the surrounding neighbourhood.
None, however, of Shunker's efforts to procure water prospered, in spite of his persevering attempts, which he carried to the extent of rashness. He went on sinking his well until he had reached a great depth, but there were no more signs of water at the end than there were at the beginning, and he finally abandoned the search.
GIFTS IN INDIA
The purchase of land. A plot for a cemetery; the Patel gives one. The Registrar's Court. The gift in jeopardy. Deed successfully executed. The Patel suffers persecution. Consecration of the cemetery. The Patel's chair. Hindus and gifts. Demand for tips. Hindu boys dissatisfied.
Buying land in India is generally a troublesome business, and difficulties are multiplied when it is required for missionary purposes, because although the owner may be willing to sell, he is often coerced not to part with his land by his co-religionists, who, as they are not going to profit by the transaction, can afford to adopt a high hand concerning it.
It took some years to secure a plot of ground for the burial of Christians in the village of Yerandawana. A cemetery is not welcomed as a near neighbour in any part of the world, and in India particularly there are many additional prejudices which have to be taken into account. Amongst these, there is a vague idea that it is unlucky to sell land for such an object, and that it may result in the early death of the vendor, or some member of his family.
It has been explained that this village is inam to a mosque in Poona City. Hence Government has only the same sort of control over village affairs that it has over those of a native state, and there is no Government land in the place. But the Collector gave the Patel a friendly hint that he had better look round and see whether some suitable plot for a Christian cemetery could not be found. He did so, and an excellent site on one of his own fields proved to be available. It was on gently sloping ground at the foot of a low range of hills, quite away from any habitations, but easily accessible because an ancient right-of-way led up to it.
The finding of a site, however, did not mean that all difficulties were solved. Prettily situated as it was, and commanding a charming view, it was a bit of ground useless for agricultural purposes. Even the grass which grew upon it was so coarse and wiry that cattle would not eat it. But the Patel's first suggestion as to price was that Rs. 1500 would be a desirable sum, and he went away rather disheartened on being assured that his suggestion was impossible. When he came again, we said that as the plot of ground was to be used for religious purposes it would be best to put aside mercenary ideas and make a free gift of it. The sudden notion struck him as a good one, and he agreed. As we knew that when it became known many Hindus would try and dissuade him from his purpose, we set to work at once to get the matter officially confirmed; writing to the Collector to tell him of the successful result of the negotiations, and enlisting the services of a lawyer to draw up a proper deed of gift to the church.
All transactions connected with the transfer of land in India have to be signed and sealed publicly in the Registrar's Court, and unless so done the transaction is not binding. The system is excellent in theory, but it is difficult to prevent abuses in its way of working. All the court officials appeared to be Brahmins. Our cemetery case was nearly wrecked in its passage through the Registrar's Court. The proceedings in minor courts where there are no Englishmen are conducted in leisurely fashion, with much desultory talk and waste of time. Although the deed of gift was a simple matter, the attempt to get it registered occupied some hours, and eventually was not accomplished at all that day. During the long time of waiting various people about the court went and talked with the Patel, and our lawyer felt sure that pressure was being put upon him to get him to draw back. Anyhow, it ended by his saying that he was not prepared to sign the deed that day, and that he must consult his friends on some points connected with it.
The lawyer arranged for an early date for a renewed attempt, feeling sure that it was a case of "now" or "never." The Registrar arrived only two hours behind time. The Brahmin officials were all smiles and affability to me, saying what an excellent act of charity the Patel was performing. The lawyer sat like a hawk over the clerk who was copying out the deed, in order to see that he did not alter it in the process, a trick which, he said, was not uncommon. Watching the business of the court in progress, I felt how completely the more ignorant people were in the hands of the permanent officials, and how easy it would be to get a negotiation doctored to suit one's own ends.
It was with almost surprised relief that at the end of nearly three hours we left the court possessors of the completed document, and the acre of land was now the property of the Church of S. Crispin in perpetuity. Villagers and others had been asking the Patel what he meant by making gifts of land to Christians, and that if he wished to endow temples, why did he not endow the Hindu temple? The Patel was getting shaky, and was beginning to repent his promise. But, the act once accomplished, he was glad that he had done it, and received our thanks with a pleasing combination of pride and shamefacedness.
The legal completion of his charitable act intensified the wrath of his Hindu neighbours. He was not popular in his village. He was weak and vacillating in his attempts at government, and foolish and dissipated in his private life. Not only did they taunt him with giving land to Christians, and jeer at him as he passed by, but they went to even greater lengths. Stones were flung at his door at night, people gathered opposite his house and made unearthly noises, invitations to ceremonial feasts were withheld, and at last he got so alarmed at the spirit of opposition which he had raised that he made one of the low-caste men of the village, who are under orders to the Patel, accompany him whenever he was out after dark.
The want of perseverance in the Indian nature has, under some circumstances, advantageous results. A spirit of opposition, unless industriously fanned, soon dies down. After a month or two, the cemetery incident had passed out of the minds of the villagers. A stone cross, 15 feet high, had been erected on the site, and in the early morning when the sun shines upon it, this cross is a conspicuous object from the high-road. The holy sign in a prominent spot in a heathen land is a refreshing sight. When the bishop consecrated the cemetery and dedicated the cross, he handed over to the Patel a handsome chair with a gay cushion, as a token of our appreciation of his kindness. In his official position as head of the village he sometimes has to receive Government officers coming to the place on business. But as no one in the village possessed a chair, he had hitherto been obliged apologetically to spread a blanket for his guests to sit upon. Hence a chair of state was a really useful present.
One or two graves were dug in readiness, according to the custom in Indian cemeteries, because of the rapid burial necessary in a tropical climate. But for more than three years there was no death in the Christian settlement. At last one of the little boys in the Home, described in a letter as "our youngest and our best," died suddenly of plague, and was buried in the new plot, appropriately enough, on Holy Innocents Day, 1911.
Someone asked, "Was the Patel pleased with his chair?" A Hindu is rarely actually pleased with a gift, because, however large it may be, he generally regrets that it is not larger. When it got whispered abroad that the Patel was going to receive a present, he had visions of one of great value. A silver cup, or even one of gold, was discussed as a possible, or even a probable gift. And though he had the grace, unlike some Indians, not to grumble in our presence concerning the nature of the presentation, the comment, "only a chair," was the prevailing sentiment expressed in the village.
A Hindu almost always asks for more. If you are paying a large building account, the contractor will suggest that, because of the excellence of his work, it would be only just and right to give him Rs. 100 extra. The driver of a tonga almost habitually asks for more, irrespective of what has been given him. Hence people practise the innocent artifice of handing to him somewhat less than his legal fare, and then when he asks for more giving him the balance, and he usually goes away quite satisfied. Porters at railway stations unblushingly beg for tips, and remonstrate at the smallness of the gift, and pursue the traveller about the station beseeching him to consider their poverty. If you have been staying in an Indian bungalow, an array of servants gather round at the time of your departure, unless the master of the house has set his face against the stereotyped custom, and by their elaborate salaams and outstretched palms indicate what is expected of you. The disappointed ones follow you down the carriage-drive reminding you of your neglect. When I have sometimes warned servants, who were rather officious in their attentions, that having no money I should not be able to give them anything at the conclusion of my visit, there has generally been a perceptible falling off in their activity. Christian servants do not clamour in this way, and give a pleasant "tank you" when they are given something, and take great care of an impecunious wayfarer.
When Hindu boys ask for pictures, whether you give them one or several, they at once beg for additional ones; and however good the pictures may be, they will often hand them back immediately and say they want better ones. It is only when they have learnt by experience that these tactics generally result in their getting no pictures at all, that they moderate their demands.
PROVERBIAL SAYINGS ABOUT INDIA
Inaccurate statements. Village trades dependent on demand. Platforms for the bird-scarers. Shop lamps of the city. Supposed ascetics. Uncertainty of the monsoon; how it comes. Cold in India; how an Indian deals with it; he cannot work if he is cold. Englishmen and the Indian sun.
There are a number of sayings and statements about India and its people which are either inaccurate or misleading, but which have become almost proverbial, and which are copied from book to book, and conveyed to new-comers by word of mouth, and their often mistaken impressions of many simple things are partly caused by the erroneous expressions and descriptions which they have heard or read. It takes the first several years of a residence in India to gradually unlearn the things which have been wrongly learnt. The stray visitor does not stay long enough to get his view straightened out, and when he returns to write his book about India he repeats the off-told tale.
It is often stated in books that in each village a representative of every trade which supplies the ordinary wants of the inhabitants is to be found—such as the barber, carpenter, blacksmith, potter, cobbler, etc. But there is no rule about this, and it depends, just as it does in English villages, on the size of the place and the demands of trade. In many villages there is no resident barber, and the people depend on the chance visits of one who itinerates. Blacksmiths are, for the most part, wandering people who come and settle down near a village for a few weeks or months, and then, when trade grows dull, move on to a fresh pitch. The potter is now only to be met with here and there. It is a sign of the increasing prosperity of India that brass and copper vessels are largely taking the place of the earthenware cooking-pots. A carpenter is found in almost every village, because petty repairs to farming implements are an everyday need. He is a man of some importance, and wears a sacred thread like a Brahmin.
When travelling in the train from Bombay to Poona for the first time, I noticed here and there in the corner of many fields a sort of litter, about the length of a man, raised on rough poles about six feet high, and on it a mysterious heap of rubbish. I remember vaguely to have read that the bodies of the dead in the East are exposed to be devoured by birds, and I jumped to the conclusion that the platforms were erected for this purpose, and that the heap of rubbish was the remains of the corpse, and that solitary places in remote fields were chosen in order that the dead might not be any annoyance to the living. As a matter of fact, it is only the Parsees who place their dead on tower-like structures, built for the purpose, to be disposed of by the vultures.
I learnt in due course that these rural platforms are for the use of boys who scare away birds and other creatures from the ripening crops, and I have not unfrequently accepted the hospitable invitation of some of the village boys to climb up on to the platform and share their sport. From their post of vantage they can survey the whole field, and they sling stones with marvellous force and accuracy to whatever quarter the birds are attacking. They also make a din by beating empty oil-tins, and use clappers as the country boys at home do. The heap of rubbish only consists of the leaves and grass which the boys collect to make their seat on the perch more comfortable, because they often keep vigil for the whole of a long day.
The visitor having read that to the Hindu everything is permeated with religion, thinks that everything that he sees has some religious significance. Someone describing his first drive from the Poona station to the Mission-house through the native city at night, said how much moved he was at seeing the little flickering lamps burning before the "idols" in the shops. But a Hindu does not put his household gods in his shop, and the flickering lamp was merely his ordinary shop lamp, which a few years back satisfied his wants. There are some modern inventions which Indians have taken to very readily, and amongst these are the new ways of producing brilliant light, and the old-fashioned flickering lamp is now hardly to be seen in Poona.
Going out in the early morning a day or so after my first arrival in India, I met three or four men walking silently one behind each other, and wearing what looked something like a coarse brown habit with a cowl, which they had drawn over their heads so that their faces were almost hidden. Having heard so often about Indian ascetics, I looked at them with some curiosity and respect, as being probably of their number. But in the course of the morning I met so many others of the same type, that I began to think I must have made a mistake. The cowl-like habit turned out to be the coarse native blanket, used for so many purposes by rustic Indians, and which they wear in this monastic fashion in the, sometimes chill, early mornings, or when it is wet. Their walking in single file was not in order to assist them in the preservation of perpetual silence, but because jungle footpaths make this mode of progression a necessity, and country folk get so used to walking in this fashion that when they emerge on to the high-road they preserve the same order.
The monsoon, or rainy season, I had been led to suppose began almost invariably on a certain date, and that rain then fell continuously for three months until another fixed day when it left off, after which no more rain fell till the appointed date of the next year. The expression, "the monsoon has burst," which is often seen in the newspapers, suggests the idea that the advent of the rain is something akin to a deluge produced by the bursting of a great tank. In reality there is, at times, almost as much uncertainty about weather in India as there is in England. The most that can be said is that there are several months in which rain, though possible, is extremely unlikely, and outdoor festivities can be arranged for without those anxious watchings of the heavens which is the lot of the organiser of garden fetes in England.
But the date of the monsoon, its duration, and its quality, are most uncertain factors and subjects of anxious speculation, and generally of singularly incorrect prophecy. The country also is so large, and its characteristics are so varied, that the monsoon not only does not occur at the same time all over India, but the amount of rainfall varies enormously in localities not far removed from each other. There are parts of India where rain hardly ever falls, and there are other parts where the total rainfall reaches an almost incredible figure. But it would be possible for a skilful wanderer so to travel about India that he would never come under the influence of the monsoon at all.
Nor is its "bursting" otherwise than a rather gradual process. Clouds slowly gather, rumblings of thunder are heard, lightning flashes about the mountain tops with great brilliancy, the air is close and oppressive, there is often violent wind, and dust sweeps into the bungalow in clouds, a few drops of rain fall, and people hope that the monsoon has begun. But these symptoms are often prolonged for a week or two before the real rain comes, and sometimes the clouds disperse and brilliant sunshine returns for a time. Now and then the monsoon is almost a complete failure in certain areas, and that means famine, proportionate to the area which lacks rain. Even when the monsoon begins in earnest, there is still room for speculation and anxiety. In some years it ceases prematurely, and then the grain either does not come into ear, or else the ears are small and parched.
When a good monsoon commences in sober earnest there is often a combination of high wind and heavy rain which few roofs are proof against, and a good deal of discomfort indoors is the result. After the first day or two the wind generally drops, and a steady perpendicular downpour follows, continuous and heavy according to the locality, and the character of the monsoon in each year. In Poona and its neighbourhood the rain rarely continues for many days in succession, and there come breaks of delightfully bright sunshine. In some years the rainy season is only spread over about two months, but in other years it lasts on and off much longer.