European foreigners, who visit Bombay in a commercial capacity, find it exceedingly triste; independently of private society, there is absolutely no amusement—no play, no concert, no public assembly of any kind; nor would it be advisable to attempt to establish an entertainment of this nature, since there would be no chance of its support. There is a fine building, the Town Hall, well adapted for the purpose, but its most spacious saloon is suffered to remain empty and unfurnished; the expense which must be incurred in the purchase of chandeliers proving sufficient to deter the community from an undertaking which would serve to add gaiety to a sombre scene.
Those who have visited the Town Hall of Calcutta, and who retain a recollection of the brilliance of its re-unions, with all their gay variety of concert, opera, and acted charade, cannot help seeing that Bombay lags very far behind; it is, therefore, unwise to provoke comparisons, and the society here should rather pride itself upon what it will do, than upon what it has done. It is, perhaps, little to be lamented that merely frivolous amusements should be wholly confined to the private circles of social life, but there are others which might be cultivated with infinite advantage to the community at large, and for which the great room at the Town Hall seems to be most admirably adapted.
Whether the native ear is sufficiently refined to relish the superior performances of music, seems doubtful; but when we see so large a portion of the society of Bombay composed of Parsee, Hindu, and Mohamedan gentlemen, we cannot help wishing that some entertainment should be provided for them which would attract and interest, while it expanded the mind. A series of lectures upon popular subjects, illustrated by entertaining experiments, might, I should think, be introduced with good effect. The wonders of the microscope, laid open to the eyes of intelligent persons who perfectly understand and speak English, could scarcely fail to delight and instruct, while the secrets of phantasmagoria, the astonishing effects produced by electricity, the movements of the heavenly bodies exhibited in an orrery, and, indeed, all the arcana of science, agreeably laid open, would furnish inexhaustible funds of amusement, and lead to inquiries of the most useful nature. Lectures, also, upon horticulture, floriculture, &c., might be followed by much practical good; and as there are many scientific men at the presidency who could assist one or more lecturers engaged for the purpose, the expense of such an institution would be materially lessened, while, if it were once established, the probabilities are in favour of its being supported by contributions of the necessary models, implements, &c., from the capitals of Europe.
It is certainly very pleasing to see the numbers of native gentlemen of all religious persuasions, who enter into the private society of Bombay, but I could wish that we should offer them some better entertainment than that of looking on at the eternal quadrille, waltz, or galoppe. They are too much accustomed to our method of amusing ourselves to view it in the light in which it is looked upon in many other parts of India; still, they will never, in all probability, reconcile it to their ideas of propriety, and it is a pity that we do not show ourselves capable of something better. Conversation at these parties is necessarily restricted to a few commonplaces; nothing is gained but the mere interchange of civility, and the native spectators gladly depart, perhaps to recreate themselves with more debasing amusements, without having gained a single new idea.
If meetings once a fortnight, or once a month, could be held at the Town Hall, for the purpose of diffusing useful knowledge in a popular manner, they would not only afford amusement at the time, but subjects also of conversation for the future. Such meetings would give no offence to that part of the community who are averse, upon religious principles, to cards and dancing, or dramatic amusements; and if not rendered too abstruse, and consequently tiresome and incomprehensible to the general auditor, must necessarily become a favourite method of passing time now too frequently lost or mis-spent.
The literary and scientific conversaziones given by Lord Auckland, in Calcutta, afford a precedent for an institution of the kind; the successful features might be copied, and if there should have been any failures, the experience thus gained would prevent similar hazards. There seems to be no good reason why ladies should be excluded, since the more general and extensive a plan of the kind could be made, the greater chance there would be of a beneficial exercise of its influence over society.
There is a very good library attached to the Town Hall, and the germ of a museum, which would furnish materials for much intellectual entertainment; and there can be little doubt that, if the proposition were judiciously made, and properly supported, the wealthy portion of the native community would subscribe very liberally towards an establishment so eminently calculated to interest and amuse the youth of their families. The greater number of the sons of respectable natives are now receiving their education at the Elphinstone College, and these young people would understand and appreciate the advantages of a literary and scientific institution, for the discussion and illustration of subjects intimately connected with the end and aim of their studies. In the course of a few years, or even less, many of these young men would be qualified to take a leading part in the establishment, and perhaps there would be no greater incentive to the continuation of studies now frequently abandoned too early, for the sake of some money-getting pursuit, than the hope that the scientific acquirements attained at college might be turned to useful account.
A small salary would allure many natives, who, in consequence of the necessity which they are under of gaining their own bread, are obliged to engage in some, perhaps not very lucrative, trade, and who, engrossed in the gathering together o petty gains, lose all the advantages they might otherwise have derived from a liberal education. The difficulties which in other parts of our Asiatic territories stand in the way of the participation of natives in the studies and amusements of Anglo-Indian residents, in consequence of the difference of language, are not felt in Bombay.
All the superior classes of natives speak excellent English, the larger portion expressing themselves with great fluency, and even elegance. English is spoken in every shop frequented by Europeans, and there are generally one or two servants in every family who can make themselves understood in it. The natives form, in fact, a very large portion of the wealth and intelligence of Bombay, and become, consequently, an important part of its society. They are the owners of nearly all the best houses in the island, which are not commonly either built or purchased, as in Calcutta, by their European tenants.
Many rich native merchants, who reside usually in the Fort, possess splendid country mansions, to which they retire occasionally, or which are used merely for the purpose of giving parties to their friends. These mansions are to be recognised by the abundance of ornament, by gateways surmounted by nondescript monsters, after the fashion of the lions or bears of carved stone, which are sometimes seen at the entrance of a nobleman's grounds in England. At others, they are gaily painted in a variety of colours, while a profusion of many-coloured lamps, hanging in the verandah and porticoes on the occasion of every fete, shed great brilliance on the evening scene. These residences are scattered all over Bombay, the interiors being all richly furnished, and many fitted up with infinite taste and elegance.
Although, as I have before remarked, these scattered houses impart an air of rural enjoyment to the island, yet their being spread over its whole surface prevents Bombay from appearing to be so important a place as it is in reality. There is nothing approaching to the idea of a city to be seen, nothing solid or substantial to indicate the presence of wealth or of extensive commerce. Calcutta, on the contrary, offers to the stranger's eye an aspect so striking and imposing, brings so strongly to the mind the notion that its merchants are princes, and that it ranks crowned heads amongst its vassals and its tributaries, that we see at once that it must be the seat of a powerful and permanently established government. Nor does it seem possible, even in the event of Bombay taking the ascendance as the capital of British India, that the proud City of Palaces shall upon that account dwindle and sink into decay. Stranger things, and even more melancholy destinies, have befallen the mighty Babylons of the earth; but with all its faults of situation and of climate, I should at least, for one, regret the fate that would render the glories of a city so distinct in its character, and so proudly vying with the capitals of Europe, a tale of the past. A new direction in the course of the Ganges may reduce it to a swamp, and its palaces and pleasant places may be left to desolate creatures, but it will never be rivalled by any modern creation. The days of Anglo-Indian magnificence are gone by, and though we may hope for all that is conveyed by the words comfort and prosperity, splendour will no longer form a feature in the scene.
The climate of Bombay is said to be superior in point of salubrity to that of Bengal; what is termed the cold season, however, can scarcely merit the name, there being nothing like the bracing weather experienced at the same period of the year in the neighbouring presidency. One peculiarity of Bombay consists in the wind blowing hot and cold at the same time, so that persons who are liable to rheumatic pains are obliged to wrap themselves up much more warmly than is agreeable. While enduring a very uncomfortable degree of heat, a puff of wind from the land or the sea will produce a sudden revulsion, and in these alternations the whole day will pass away, while at night they become still more dangerous. It is said that the hot season is not so hot as in Bengal, and the absence of punkahs in the drawing-rooms and bed-chambers favours the statement; but if the atmosphere be much more sultry in the hot season than it is in what is by courtesy called cold, it must be rather difficult to bear.
To a stranger in Bombay, it is a great convenience to find so many persons who speak English, the objection to the engagement of domestic servants who have acquired the language of their Christian masters not existing to the same extent here as in Bengal, where, in most cases, it is a proof of utter worthlessness. Numbers of very respectable servants, who are found in old established families at this presidency, speak English, and the greater portion take a pride in knowing a little of their masters' language. These smatterers are fond of showing off their acquirements upon all occasions, replying in English, as far as they are able, to every question asked in Hindostanee, and delivering their messages in all the words that they can muster. With few exceptions, the pronunciation of the language they have acquired is correct; these exceptions consist in the prefix of e to all words beginning with an s, and the addition of the same letter to every termination to which it can be tacked. Thus they will ask you to take some fowlee-stew; and if you object to any thing, say they will bring you anotheree. Though very respectful when addressing their superiors in their native language, the same degree of propriety is not maintained under the disadvantage of an incompetent acquaintance with English. Instead of the khana tear hi, 'dinner is ready,' they will very unintentionally substitute an abrupt summons. I was much amused one day, when, being rather late at my toilette, a servant made his appearance at the door of my apartment, just as I was quitting it, and said, "You come to dinner." He had been sent to tell me that it was served, and had not the least idea that he had not delivered his message with the greatest propriety.
Though, generally speaking, well-behaved and attentive, the domestics of a Bombay establishment are very inferior in style and appearance to those of Bengal, the admixture of Portuguese and Parsees, with Mohammedans and Hindus, forming a motley crew, for all dress in their national costume, it being impossible to prevail upon people having so many and such different religious prejudices to assume the same livery. The Parsees who engage as domestic servants seldom dress well; the ugly chintz cap will always be a disfigurement, and it is not often redeemed by the ample robe and handsome shawl which distinguish the better classes.
The Mohammedans do not wear the beautifully plaited turbans and well-fitting vests so common in Bengal, while the sailors' jackets and trowsers, almost universally worn by the Portuguese, a few only assuming the swallow-tailed coat, are any thing rather than handsome or becoming. The inferiority of dress exhibited is the more inexcusable, since the wages of servants in Bombay are much higher than those of the same class in Bengal, while the difference in point of number does not make up for the difference in the rate. The youngest table-servant demands twelve rupees a month, no one will engage as a butler under twenty, and the remainder are in proportion. The ayahs' wages are also very high, amounting to from fifteen to twenty rupees a month; they are certainly, however, more efficient than the same class of persons in Bengal, undertaking to wash silk stockings, lace, and fine muslin; they are, generally speaking, well-conducted and respectable. The dirzees or tailors are very inferior to their brethren of Bengal, though paid at a much higher rate, fifteen rupees a month being the common demand. Whenever a Bengal tailor happens to come round, he is eagerly seized upon, the reputation of workmen from the rival presidency being deservedly high. Tailors are indiscriminately Parsees, Mohammedans, or Hindus, the latter-named being the least desirable, as they will neither eat, drink, nor cook in a European manner, and are always eager to get away by half-past four in the afternoon.
The cooks of Bombay are, for the most part, well acquainted with the culinary art, an advantage for which, according to common report, they are indebted to Lord Clare. Upon the arrival of that nobleman at the seat of his government, it is said that he started with horror at the repast which the hospitality of the island had provided for him. At this substantial dinner, the ponderous round jostled the sirloin of beef, saddles and haunches of mutton vis-a-vis'd with each other, while turkey and ham, tongue and fowls, geese and ducks, filled up the interstices.
Lord Clare had either brought a French cook in his train, or sent for one with the least possible delay, and this accomplished person not only reformed the cuisine at Government House, but took pupils, and instructed all who chose to pay for the acquirement in the mysteries of his art. He found his scholars a very teachable race, and it is only now necessary to describe the way in which any particular method should be practised, in order to secure success. They easily comprehend the directions given, and, what is of equal consequence, are not above receiving instructions. Through the exertions of these praiseworthy persons, the tables of Bombay are frequently exceedingly well served, and nobody is actually obliged to dine upon the huge joints which still make their appearance.
Turkey maintains its high position, and is, with its accompaniment of ham, considered indispensable; rounds of boiled salt-beef, plentifully garnished with carrots, are apparently in high esteem, the carrots being an importation from England, coming out hermetically sealed in tin cases. What are considered the dainties of the table consist chiefly of fresh salmon, preserved by the patent process, Highland mutton, partridges stuffed with truffles, &c., these things, in consequence of their rendering the dinner more expensive as well as more recherche, being in great request.
Although the high prices of provisions are adduced as the reason of the high rate of servants' wages, as compared with those of Bengal, this increased expenditure, according to the observations I have been able to make, relates more to the commodities of the native bazaars than those consumed by Europeans. The necessity of bringing in supplies from a distance for the consumption of the island occasions the increase of the price of grain, &c, while probably the demand for beef, mutton, fowls, &c. not being go great as in Calcutta, these articles are sold at a lower rate. Buffalo meat is occasionally eaten by Europeans, a thing unheard of in Bengal; but it is not in any esteem.
The tables in Bombay are handsomely appointed, though not with the same degree of splendour that prevails in Bengal, where the quantity of plate makes so striking a display. The large silver vases, in which butter and milk are enclosed in a vessel filled with saltpetre, which give to the breakfast-tables of Calcutta an air of such princely grandeur, are not in use here.
The servants are summoned by the exclamation of "Boy" instead of the Qui hi? which is so Indian-like in its expression, and has afforded a distinguishing soubriquet to the Bengallees. The word boy is said to be a corruption of bhaee, 'brother,' a common mode of salutation all over the East. As it is now employed, it is often very absurdly answered by a grey-bearded man, who has long lost all title to the appellation.
Notwithstanding the strength and acknowledged efficiency of the Bombay police, it is considered expedient in every house to engage a Ramoosee or watchman, who, while himself a professional thief, is bound in honour to protect his employer from the depredation of his brethren. Though, in virtue of this implied compact, the house ought to be considered sacred, and the Ramoosee entitled to receive his wages for the protection that his name affords, some there are who insist upon the display of their watchfulness in a very unwelcome manner.
Occasionally the Ramoosee, more peaceably inclined, settles himself quietly down to sleep in the verandah, and leaves the family to the enjoyment of repose; but there are others who disdain thus to eat the bread of idleness, and who make it a point to raise an alarm every hour in the night. Personal courage or strength of body is by no means essential in a Ramoosee, all that is required of him being powerful lungs; this qualification he cultivates to the utmost, and any thing more dreadful than the sounds emitted in the dead of the night close to the window nearest the head of my bed I never heard. I have started up in the most horrible state of apprehension, fancying that the world was at an end, while, after calming down all this perturbation, just as I have been going to sleep again, the same fearful shout has brought on new alarm. Vainly have I remonstrated, vainly endeavoured to convince the Ramoosee that his duty to his employers would be better performed by making these shocking outcries at the road-side; he is either inflexibly silent, or waging war against my repose; for I believe that he selects the side of the house devoted to the visit or for the exercise of his extraordinary faculty; I cannot in any other way account for the small disturbance he gives to the rest of the family.
The absolute necessity of paying one of these men, in order to secure the forbearance of his colleagues, is illustrated by an anecdote commonly told. It appears that two friends were living together, one of whom had engaged a Ramoosee, while the other, not imagining it to be incumbent upon him to incur the same expense, neglected this precaution. One night, every thing belonging to this unfortunate chum was stolen. The Ramoosee was summoned, and accused of not having performed his duty. He boldly denied the charge. "All master's property is safe," he said; "when master lose any thing, I will account for it."
The fidelity with which the greater number of natives, however corrupt in other respects, fulfil all their engagements, the few instances in which a pledge once given is forfeited, if taken into grave consideration, would do much towards settling the point at issue between the Bishop of London and Sir Charles Forbes. The word of a native, generally speaking, if solemnly given, is a bond never to be broken, while an oath is certainly not equally binding.
In accusing the natives of a deliberate crime in the commission of perjury, we do not sufficiently reflect upon the difference of the religious principles which actuate Christians, and the heinous nature in their eyes of the sin of calling upon a God of purity to witness their falsehoods. If we could administer an oath to a native, the profanation of which would fill him with equal horror, we should find that he would speak the truth. A case in point occurred lately at Aden. There are a class of Mohammedans who are great knaves, many being addicted to cheating and theft: the evidence of these men cannot be depended upon, since for the value of the most trifling sum they would swear to any thing. Nevertheless, although they do not hesitate to call upon God and the Prophet to witness the most flagrant untruths, they will not support a falsehood if put to a certain test. When required to swear by a favourite wife, they refuse to perjure themselves by a pledge which they esteem sacred, and will either shrink altogether from the ordeal or state the real fact.
The following occurrence is vouched for by an eye-witness: "A Somali had a dispute with a Banian as to the number of komasies he had paid for a certain article, swearing by God and the Prophet that he had paid the price demanded of him for the article in question; but no sooner was he called upon to substantiate his assertions by swearing by his favourite wife, than he threw down the article contended for, and took to his heels with all speed, in order to avoid the much dreaded oath." It will appear, therefore, that there is scarcely any class of persons in India so utterly destitute of principle, as to be incapable of understanding the obligation of an oath, or the necessity of speaking truth when solemnly pledged to do so, the difficulty being to discover the asseveration which they consider binding.
In nearly every transaction with servants in India we find them most unscrupulous respecting the truth of any account which they give, and yet at the same time they will fulfil every engagement they enter into with a conscientiousness almost unknown in Christian countries. The lowest servant of the establishment may be trusted with money, which will be faithfully appropriated to the purpose for which it was intended, but certainly they entertain little or no respect for abstract truth.
The controversy at home concerning the general disregard to accuracy manifested by the natives of India has caused much consternation here, and will, I trust, be productive of good. It will show at least to the large portion of the native community, who can understand and appreciate the value of the good opinion of the country of which they are fellow-subjects, the necessity of a strict adherence to veracity, in order to maintain their pretensions to morality, and it will evince the superiority of that religion which, as one of its precepts, teaches a regard for truth.
Willing as I feel to bear testimony to many excellent points in the native character, I regret to say, that, although they do not deserve the sweeping accusations brought against them, the standard by which they are guided is very low. At the same time it must be said, that the good faith which they observe, upon occasions in which persons guided by superior lights would be less scrupulous, shows that they only require a purer religious system to regard truth as we have been taught to regard it.
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Residences for the Governor—Parell—Its Gardens—Profusion of Roses—Receptions at Government-house—The evening-parties—The grounds and gardens of Parell inferior to those at Barrackpore—The Duke of Wellington partial to Parell—Anecdotes of his Grace in India—Sir James Mackintosh—His forgetfulness of India—The Horticultural Society—Malabar Point, a retreat in the hot weather—The Sea-view beautiful—The nuisance of fish—Serious effects at Bombay of the stoppage of the trade with China—Ill-condition of the poorer classes of Natives—Frequency of Fires—Houses of the Parsees—Parsee Women—Masculine air of the other Native Females of the lower orders who appear in public—Bangle-shops—Liqueur-shops—Drunkenness amongst Natives not uncommon here, from the temptations held out—The Sailors' Home—Arabs, Greeks, Chinamen—The latter few and shabby—Portuguese Padres—Superiority of the Native Town of Bombay over that of Calcutta—Statue of Lord Cornwallis—Bullock-carriages—High price and inferiority of horses in Bombay—Hay-stacks—Novel mode of stacking.
There are three residences for the accommodation of the Governor of Bombay; one, the Castle, situated within the Fort, has been long disused, and appropriated to government-offices; a second, at Malabar Point, is intended as a retreat for the hot weather; Parell, the third, being the mansion most usually occupied.
Though not built in a commanding position, Parell is very prettily situated in the midst of gardens, having a rich back-ground of wood, while, from the upper windows, the eye, after ranging over these luxuriant groves, catches a view of the sea, and is carried away to more remote regions by the waving outline of distant hills, melting into the soft haze until it effaces all their details.
Parell was originally a college of Jesuits, and, after so many alterations and improvements, that its original occupants would be puzzled to recognise it, is now rendered worthy of the purpose to which it is dedicated. The house is an irregular structure, without pretension to architectural design or ornament, but having something noble in its appearance, which is helped out by a fine portico and battlemented roof. The interior is handsome and convenient; two flights of marble stairs, twelve feet broad, lead into a very spacious drawing-room, with galleries on either side, and three smaller drawing-rooms beyond. The terrace over the portico, at the other end, separated from this suite of apartments by a verandah, is easily convertible into a fourth reception-room, it being roofed in by an awning, and furnished with blinds, which in the day-time give a very Italian air to the whole building.
Though I have never been in Italy, the acquaintance gained of it through the medium of illustrating pens and pencils makes me fancy that the island of Bombay, and Parell especially, at this season of the year (the cold weather), may bear a strong resemblance to that fair and sunny land.
The gardens of Parell are perfectly Italian, with their fountains and cypress trees; though regular, they are not sufficiently symmetrical to offend the eye, the nature of the ground and of the building, which runs out at right angles, preventing the formality from being carried beyond its just limit. Price, the most judicious of landscape-gardeners, would scarcely have desired to alter arrangements which have quite enough of the varied and the picturesque to satisfy those who do not contend for eternal labyrinthine mazes and perpetually waving lines. There is one straight avenue in front, but the principal carriage-road has just the kind of curve most desirable, sweeping round some fine trees which group themselves for the purpose of affording an agreeable diversity.
A broad terrace, overlooking a large tank, runs along one side of the garden, and beyond, upon a rising hill, are seen the New Horticultural Gardens, and a part of the picturesque village of Metunga, while the rest is laid out in small lawns, interspersed with rounds and ovals, fountains in the centre, surrounded by flower-beds, and flanked by tall, slender cypresses, and the more rare, delicate, and elegant species of palms: all this is set off by clumps of mangoes, now covered with blossoms of dark gold burnishing their green leaves.
It is, indeed, a fair and stately garden, enriched with many native and foreign productions, both of tree and flower, of great beauty. In one place, two large trees, on either side a broad gravel walk, are united by a splendid festoon, formed by a creeper, which bears in the greatest profusion bell-shaped flowers, at least four inches long, and of the most beautiful pearly whiteness and fragrant scent. I regret that my want of botanical knowledge incapacitates me from giving its name and family. That species of palm which is called the Travellers' Tree, and which, growing in sandy places, contains in its leaves an ample supply of fresh water, is to be found here. It resembles the banana or plantain, in its broad leaves, springing immediately from the stem, but attains a much greater height, and is altogether very striking and singular in its appearance.
The wealth of roses at the gardens of Parell seems to exceed all computation, bushels being collected every day without any apparent diminution; indeed it may be questioned whether there is in any part of the world so great a consumption of this beautiful flower as in Bombay. The natives cultivate it very largely, and as comparatively few employ it in the manufacture of rose-water, it is gathered and given away in the most lavish profusion. At Parell, every morning, one of the gardeners renews the flowers which decorate the apartments of the guests; bouquets are placed upon the breakfast-table, which, though formal, are made up after the most approved Parisian fashion, the natives being exceedingly skilful in the arrangement of flowers. Vases filled with roses meet the eye in every direction, flowers which assume their supremacy over all other daughters of Flora, though there are many beautiful specimens, the common productions of the gardens, which are rarely found even in hothouses in England.
The society of Bombay enjoys the great advantage arising from the presence of the ladies of the Governor's family, who have rendered themselves most deservedly popular by the frequency and the agreeableness of their entertainments, and the kind attention which they pay to every invited guest. The slight forms that are kept up at Government-house are just sufficient to give a somewhat courtly air to these parties without depriving them of their sociability. Morning visitors are received once a-week, and upon these occasions Parell assumes a very gay appearance.
The band, which is an excellent one, is stationed in the hall below, playing occasionally the most popular compositions of the day, while its pillared verandah is filled with liveried servants, handsomely dressed in scarlet, white, and gold. The ample staircases are lined with flowers, and as the carriages drive up, the aide-de-camps and other military resident guests are in readiness to receive the visitors, and to usher them up stairs, and introduce them to the ladies of the family.
The morning reception lasts from eleven until two, and the numerous arrivals from distant stations, or from England, officers continually coming down from the army or the dominions of foreign princes, give occasion to conversations of great interest, while it forms a rallying-point to the whole of Bombay. The evening parties are distinguished for the excellence of the music, the band having improved greatly under the stimulating influence of the ladies of the Governor's family, who are all delightful performers, one especially excelling. In addition, therefore, to their own talents, all the musical genius of Bombay is put into requisition, and the result is shown in some very charming episodes between the dancing.
At these evening parties, the brilliance of the lights, and the beauty of the flowers, which in the supper-room especially are very tastefully displayed, render the scene extremely attractive. One very pleasing feature must not be omitted; in the ante-room is placed a large silver salver, filled with bouquets, which are presented, according to the Oriental custom, to every guest. The number and variety of the uniforms, and the large proportion of native gentlemen, add much to the gaiety of the appearance of these parties, and the eye most accustomed to European splendour may find pleasure in roaming over these spacious, well-filled, and brilliantly illuminated apartments.
Nor is it the interior alone that attracts; on the still moonlight nights, which are so beautiful in India, the scenery viewed from the windows assumes a peculiar and almost magical appearance, looking more like a painting than living reality. The trees, so motionless that not a leaf stirs, present a picture of such unbroken repose, that we can scarcely imagine it to be real; the sky seems to be drawn closer to us, while the whole breathes of divine art, suggesting poetry and music and thoughts of Paradise.
In England I remember feeling a longing desire to breathe the delicious balm, and gaze upon the exquisite effects of an Indian night again, with its tone of soft beauty and the silvery mystery of its atmosphere, which adds so great a charm to the rich magnificence of the foliage; and now I fancy that I can never sufficiently drink in a scene, not only lovely in itself, but peculiarly delightful from its contrast to the glare of the day.
The grounds and gardens of Parell, in extent and splendour, will bear no comparison with those of Barrackpore, which are, perhaps, some of the finest in the world, and which must be explored in carriages or on horseback, while the plantations and parterres at this place offer nothing more than agreeable walks, which perhaps, after all, afford superior gratification; at least to those who prefer a feeling of home to the admiration elicited by great splendour.
Not one of the least pleasing sensations excited by a residence at Parell, is the recollection of the distinguished persons who have inhabited the same chambers, and sat in the same halls. The Duke of Wellington is said frequently to have expressed a partiality for Parell, and to look back to the days of his sojourn within its walls with pleasure. Here he reposed after those battles in which he laid the foundation of his future glory, and to which, after long experience, and so many subsequent triumphs as almost to eclipse their splendour, he recurs with peculiar satisfaction. So far from underrating, as is the fashion with many of the military servants of the Crown, the merits of a successful campaign in India, the great captain of the age, than whom there can be no better judge, rates the laurels that he gathered in his earliest fields as highly as those wrested from the soldiers of France, glorying in the title given him by Napoleon, of "the Sepoy General."
Few things can be more agreeable than listening to anecdotes told at the dinner-table at Parell of the Duke of Wellington by officers who have formerly sat at the same board with him, who have served under his command in India, and who delight in recording those early traits of character which impressed all who knew him with the conviction that he was destined to become the greatest man of the age. The Duke of Wellington, though wholly unacquainted with the language spoken in India, was always held in the highest esteem by the natives, with whom, generally speaking, in order to become popular, it is absolutely necessary to be able to converse in their own tongue. He obtained, however, a perfect knowledge of their modes of feeling, thinking, and acting, and by a liberal policy, never before experienced, endeared himself to all ranks and classes. It is recollected at this day that, in times of scarcity, he ordered all the rice sent up for the subsistence of the troops to be sold, at a moderate price, to the starving multitude; and that, while more short-sighted people prophesied the worst results from this measure, it obtained for him abundant supplies, together with a name that will never be forgotten.
A re-perusal at Parell of the "Life of Sir James Mackintosh" also affords interest, though of a different kind. The house which Sir James designates as large and convenient, with two really good rooms, has been much improved since his time. It could not be expected that a man like Sir James Mackintosh would employ many words in the description of a mansion chiefly interesting on account of its former occupants; but that he should have dismissed the whole of the presidency in as summary a manner, seems perfectly unaccountable.
It does not appear that the importance and value of British India ever made any strong impression upon Sir James Mackintosh, who seems to have looked upon its various inhabitants with a cold and careless eye; to have done nothing in the way of making the people of England better acquainted with their fellow-subjects in the East, and never to have felt any desire to assist in the work of their improvement, or to facilitate its progress. During his subsequent career, India appears to have been totally forgotten, or remembered only as the scene of an exile, in which he had found nothing to compensate for the loss of literary society and the learned idling away of time, from which so much was expected, and which produced so little.
The eloquence of Sir James Mackintosh, if exerted in favour of British India, might, years before, have excited that interest in its behalf, which remained dormant until Bishop Heber created a new feeling upon the subject; and in this place especially, I cannot help regretting that the powers of so great a mind should not have been devoted to the promotion of the welfare of a country dependant upon England for intellectual and moral improvement, and which, in the eyes of all reflecting persons, must be looked upon as the strongest support of England's ancient glory.
The garden of the Horticultural Society, which occupies a convenient space of ground near Parell, is yet in an infant state, but bids fair in a short time to add very considerably to the pleasures of those persons who take delight in the cultivation of flowers and fruits. Many gentlemen are stimulating their gardeners to make great exertions for the prizes, which it is expected will be chiefly carried away at the ensuing meeting by exhibitors from the Deccan. Though there are several very good gardens in the island, they are, according to all accounts, greatly excelled in other parts of the presidency.
The system of cultivation carried on by the Horticultural Society will, no doubt, tend very considerably to their improvement, while the new method of conveying plants to and from distant places, in boxes covered with glass, will soon enrich all the gardens, both in India and at home, with interesting exotics. Several of these cases, filled with bulbous and other roots, under the inspection of Messrs. Loddiges, have arrived at Parell, and been planted out in pots; the eases will be returned, filled with equally valuable specimens of Indian products; and thus a continual interchange may be kept up.
I wished much to enrich the collection of foreign plants making by the Royal Botanical Society of London, by some of the most interesting specimens of Indian growth, feeling deeply interested in the success of this institution; but not being a practical gardener myself, I have as yet been unable to fulfil my intentions. I calculated, perhaps, too strongly upon the desire of scientific people in Bombay to promote objects of general utility at home, and see little chance, unless I do every thing relating to the collecting, planting, packing, and transmitting the plants with my own hands, of succeeding in sending any thing to England. Indeed, I find a difficulty in procuring a hortus siccus.
As every body, who can possibly get away, leaves Bombay during the hot weather and the rains, the residence at Malabar Point, intended as a retreat in the sultry season, is seldom tenanted by the Governor's family. The house, however, is not very often empty, being generally occupied by some great person and his suite, such as newly-arrived commanders-in-chief, who are accommodated at this establishment until they can provide for themselves. The principal residence, and several bungalows attached to it, are erected on the side of a hill overlooking and washed by the sea. The views are beautiful, the harbour affording at all times a scene of great liveliness and interest, while the aerial summits of the hills in the distance, and their purple splendours, complete the charm. The numerous fairy-like skiffs, with their white sails, catching the sunlight, give life and movement to the picture, while the cottages of the fishermen are often placed with happy effect upon the neighbouring shore.
There are, unfortunately, serious drawbacks to the enjoyment which the eye derives from the gliding boats and palm-crowned huts; the amusement of yachting being seriously impeded by the method of spreading nets, for the purpose of capturing the finny tribes, while, in consequence of the immense quantity which is caught, the whole island occasionally smells of fish. The fishermen have certain places secured to them by law, in which they drive immense stakes, usually the trunks of palm-trees, and between these stakes they fasten their nets, any damage done to them by passing boats being punishable by a fine; the navigation of the harbour, to those who wish to visit its beautiful islands, is, in consequence, rather difficult, and would scarcely admit of being carried on by those small steamers, which render every place in the neighbourhood of Calcutta so accessible.
The boats here, with the exception of private yachts, which are not numerous, are a disgrace to a civilized place. Nothing can be easily imagined to be worse than the pattamars usually employed for the conveyance of troops and travellers to distant points; they are dirty, many so low in the roof that the passengers cannot stand upright in them, and filled with insects and vermin.
The abundance and cheapness of fish render it the common food of the lower classes, and consequently its effluvia sometimes pervade the whole atmosphere. The smell of frying fish, with its accompaniment of oil, is sufficiently disagreeable; but this is not all; a much more powerful odour arises from fish drying for future use, while, as it is commonly spread over the fields and employed as manure, the scents wafted by the breezes upon these occasions breathe any thing but perfume.
There are many very delicate kinds of fish, which are held in great esteem, to be seen at European tables; but, to a stranger, the smell of the refuse allowed to decay is quite enough, and habit must reconcile the residents of Bombay to this unpleasant assailant of the olfactory nerves, before they can relish the finest specimens of pomfret or other favourite. As it can always be purchased freshly caught, fish appears at dinner as well as at the breakfast-table in Bombay; the list of shell-fish includes oysters, which, though not so tempting in their appearance as those of England, are of excellent quality.
The fishermen, like those of Europe, leave the sale of their fish to their wives, who are said to be a busy, bustling, active race, quite equal to the tasks which devolve upon them, and, in consequence of the command which their occupation gives them over the pecuniary receipts of the house, exerting a proportionate degree of authority.
Fishermen's huts, though very picturesque, are not usually remarkable for their neatness or their cleanliness, and those of Bombay form no exception to their general appearance. They are usually surrounded by a crowd of amphibious animals, in the shape of tribes of children, who for the most part are perfectly free from the incumbrance of drapery. Many, who have not a single rag to cover them, are, notwithstanding, adorned with gold or silver ornaments, and some ingeniously transform a pocket-handkerchief into a toga, or mantle, by tying two ends round the throat, and leaving the remainder to float down behind, so that they are well covered on one side, and perfectly bare on the other. Amid the freaks of costume exhibited at Bombay, an undue preference seems to be given to the upper portion of the person, which is frequently well covered by a warm jacket with long sleeves, while the lower limbs are entirely unclad.
There is said to be cotton goods to the amount of a million sterling lying in the godowns and warehouses of Bombay, unemployed, in consequence of the stoppage of the China trade, and it seems a pity that the multitudes who wear gold chains about their necks, and gold ear-rings in their ears, could not be prevailed upon to exchange a part of this metal for a few yards of covering of some kind or other, of which apparently they stand much in need.
Great numbers of the poorer classes seem to be ill-fed, ill-lodged, and worse clothed; yet scantiness in this particular is certainly not always the result of poverty, as the redundance of precious ornaments above mentioned can witness. Neither does the wretched manner in which many belonging to the lower orders of Bombay shelter themselves from the elements appear to be an absolute necessity, and it is a pity that some regulations should not be made to substitute a better method of constructing the sheds in which so many poor people find a dwelling-place. The precaution of raising the floor even a few inches above the ground is not observed in these miserable hovels, and their inhabitants, often destitute of bedsteads, sleep with nothing but a mat, and perhaps not even that, between them and the bare earth.
At this season of the year, when no rain falls, the palm-branches with which these huts are thatched are so carelessly placed, as to present large apertures, which expose the inmates to sun-beams and to dews, both of which, so freely admitted into a dwelling, cannot fail to produce the most injurious effects. Were these houses raised a foot or two from the ground, and well roofed with the dry palm-branches, which seem to supply so cheap and efficient a material, they would prove no despicable abodes in a country in which only at one season of the year, the rains, very substantial shelter is required.
As it may be supposed, conflagrations are frequent in these hovels; they are fortunately seldom attended with loss of life, or even of much property, since the household furniture and wardrobes of the family can be easily secured and carried off, while the people themselves have nothing to do but to walk out. On these occasions, the rats are seen to decamp in large troops, and gentlemen, returning home from drives or parties, are often arrested by a fire, and by the instructions they afford, do much towards staying the progress of the flames, while the greater number of natives, Parsees in particular, look quietly on, without offering to render the slightest assistance. Whole clusters of huts are in this manner very frequently entirely consumed; the mischief does not spread farther, and would be little to be lamented should it lead to the entire demolition of dwelling-places equally unsightly, and prejudicial to health.
Much to my astonishment, I have seen, in the midst of these very wretched tenements, one superior to the rest placed upon a platform, with its verandah in front, furnished with chairs, and surrounded by all the dirt and rubbish accumulated by its poverty-stricken neighbours, miserable-looking children picking up a scanty subsistence, and lean cats groping about for food. Such houses are, besides, exposed to all the dangers of fire originating in the adjoining premises; but apparently this circumstance has been overlooked, together with the expediency of building a little apart from the horrors of the surrounding abominations. This is the more remarkable, from the contrast it affords to the air of comfort which is so often manifest in the inferior dwellings of the natives of Bombay.
I often, in my drives, come upon a small patch of ground, well cultivated, and boasting vegetables, fruits, and flowers, with a small low-roofed house of unbaked mud in one corner, having a verandah all round, well tiled and supported on bamboos. It is difficult under this sloping roof to get a peep at the interior, but my efforts have been rewarded by the sight of floors cleanly swept, bedsteads, and those articles of furniture which can scarcely be dispensed with without suffering considerable privation.
As yet, I have not been able to discover to what class of persons these kind of dwellings belong, but I suspect that they are tenanted chiefly by Parsees, a money-getting and luxurious race of people, who are sufficiently industrious to exert themselves, with great perseverance, to gain a living, and have the spirit to spend their money upon the comforts and conveniences of life. They are accused of extravagance in this particular, and perhaps do occasionally exceed; but, generally speaking, their style of living is more commendable than that of the Hindus, who carry their thrift and parsimony to an outrageous height.
Near their houses very graceful groups of Parsee women and children are to be seen, who, upon the encouragement afforded by a smile, salaam and smile again, apparently well-pleased with the notice taken of them by English ladies. These women are always well-dressed, and most frequently in silk of bright and beautiful colours, worn as a saree over a tight-fitting bodice of some gay material. The manner in which the saree is folded over the head and limbs renders it a graceful and becoming costume, which might be imitated with great propriety by the Hindu women, who certainly do not appear to study either taste or delicacy in their mode of dress.
I may have made the remark before, for it is impossible to avoid the recurrence of observations continually elicited by some new proofs of the contrast between the women upon this side of India, and their more elegant sisters on the banks of the Hooghly. Here all the women, the Parsees excepted, who appear in public, have a bold masculine air; any beauty which they may have ever possessed is effaced, in the very lower orders, by hard work and exposure to the weather, while those not subjected to the same disadvantages, and who occupy a better situation, have little pretensions to good looks. Many are seen employed in drawing water, or some trifling household work, wearing garments of a texture which shews that they are not indebted to laborious occupation for a subsistence; and while the same class in Bengal would studiously conceal their faces, no trouble whatever of the kind is taken here. They are possibly Mahrattas, which will account for their carelessness; but I could wish that, with superior freedom from absurd restraint, they had preserved greater modesty of demeanour.
The number of shops in the bazaars for the sale of one peculiar ornament, common glass rings for bracelets, and the immense quantities of the article, are quite surprising; all the native women wear these bangles, which are made of every colour. The liqueur-shops are also very common and very conspicuous, being distinguished by the brilliant colours of the beverage shown through bottles of clear white glass. What pretensions this rose and amber tinted fluid may have to compete with the liqueurs most esteemed in Europe, I have not been able to learn. Toddy-shops, easily recognised by the barrels they contain upon tap, and the drinking-vessels placed beside them, seem almost as numerous as the gin-palaces of London, arguing little for the sobriety of the inhabitants of Bombay. In the drive home through the bazaar, it is no very uncommon circumstance to meet a group of respectably-dressed natives all as tipsy as possible.
It is on account of the multitude of temptations held out by the toddy-shops, that the establishment I have mentioned as the Sailors' Home is so very desirable, by affording to those who really desire to live comfortably and respectably, while on shore, the means of doing both. Here they may enjoy the advantages of clean, well-ventilated apartments, apparently, according to what can be seen through the open windows, of ample size; and here they may, if they please, pass their time in rational employment or harmless amusement. Groups of sun-burnt tars, with their large straw hats and honest English faces, are often to be seen mingled with the crowd of Asiatics, of whom every day seems to show a greater variety.
I saw three or four very remarkable figures last evening; one was an extremely tall and handsome Arab, well dressed in the long embroidered vest, enveloping an ample quantity of inner garments, which I have so often seen, but of which I have not acquired the name, and with a gaily-striped handkerchief placed above the turban, and hanging down on either side of his face. This person was evidently a stranger, for he came up to the carriage and stared into it with the strongest expression of surprise and curiosity, our dress and appearance seeming to be equally novel and extraordinary to this child of the desert. Shortly afterwards, we encountered a Greek, with luxuriant black ringlets hanging down from under a very small scarlet and gold cap; the others were Jews, very handsome, well-dressed men, profusely enveloped in white muslin, and with very becoming and peculiar caps on their heads.
I regret to see my old friends, the China-men, so few in number, and so shabby in appearance; yet they are the only shoemakers here, and it ought to be a thriving trade. Their sign-boards are very amusing; one designating himself as "Old Jackson," while a rival, close at hand, writes "Young Jackson" upon his placard; thus dividing the interest, and endeavouring to draw custom from the more anciently established firm.
The Portuguese padres form striking and singular groups, being dressed in long black gowns, fitting tightly to the shape, and descending to their feet. They seem to be a numerous class, and I hope shortly to see the interiors of some of their churches. A very large, handsome-looking house was pointed out to us by one of the servants of whom we made the inquiry, as belonging to a Portuguese padre; it was situated near the cloth bazaar, and I regretted that I could not obtain a better view of it.
My predilection for exploring the holes and corners of the native town is not shared by many of the Anglo-Indian residents of Bombay, who prefer driving to the Esplanade, to hear the band play, or to a place on the sea-shore called the Breach. I hope, however, to make a tour of the villages, and to become in time thoroughly acquainted with all the interesting points in the island, the variety and extent of the rides and drives rendering them most particularly attractive to a traveller, who finds something interesting in every change of scene.
I have accomplished a second drive through the coco-nut gardens on the Girgaum road, a name by which this quarter of the native town is more commonly known; the view thus obtained only excited a desire to penetrate farther into the cross-lanes and avenues; but as I do not ride on horseback, I have little chance of succeeding, since I could not see much from a palanquin, and taun-jauns, so common in Calcutta, are scarcely in use here. The more I see of what is called the Native Town in Bombay, the more satisfied I am of its great superiority over that of Calcutta; and I gladly make this admission, since I have found, and still continue to find, so great a falling-off in the style of the dress, whether it relates to form, material, or cleanliness. I have lately observed a very handsome turban, which seems worn both by the Mohammedans and Hindus, of red muslin, with gold borders, which is an improvement.
A taste for flowers seems universal, plants in pots being continually to be seen on the ledges of the porticoes and verandahs; these are sometimes intermingled with less tasteful ornaments, and few things have struck me as more incongruous than a plaster bust of a modern English author, perched upon the top of a balustrade over the portico of a house in the bazaar; mustachios have been painted above the mouth, the head has been dissevered from the shoulders, and is now stuck upon one side in the most grotesque manner possible, looking down with half-tipsy gravity, the attitude and the expression of the countenance favouring the idea, upon the strange groups thus oddly brought into juxta-position. The exhibition is a droll one; but it always gives me a painful feeling: I do not like to see the effigy of a time-honoured sage abased.
The statue of Lord Cornwallis, on the Esplanade—which, being surrounded by sculptured animals, not, I think, in good taste, might be mistaken for Van Amburgh and his beasts—is close to a spot apparently chosen as a hackney-coach stand, every kind of the inferior descriptions of native vehicles being to be found there in waiting.
Some of the bullock-carriages have rather a classical air, and might, with a little brushing up and decoration, emulate the ancient triumphal car. They are usually dirty and shabby, but occasionally we see one that makes a good picture. The bullocks that draw it are milk-white, and have the hanging dewlap, which adds so greatly to the appearance of the animal; the horns are painted blue, and the forehead is adorned with a frontlet of large purple glass beads, while bouquets of flowers are stuck on either side of the head, after the manner of the rosettes worn by the horses in Europe.
A very small pair of milk-white bullocks, attached to a carriage of corresponding dimensions, merely containing a seat for two persons, is a picturesque and convenient vehicle, which will rattle along the roads at a very good pace. These bullocks usually have bells attached to their harness, which keep up a perpetual and not disagreeable jingle. The distances between the European houses are so great, and the horses able to do so little work, that it seems a pity that bullocks should not be deemed proper animals to harness to a shigram belonging to the saib logue: but fashion will not admit the adoption of so convenient a means of paying morning visits, and thus sparing the horses for the evening drive.
Great complaints are made about the high price and the inferiority of the horses purchaseable in Bombay, a place in which the Arab is not so much esteemed as I had expected. Some difficulty was experienced in obtaining very fine specimens of this far-famed race for the Queen, who gave a commission for them. I had the pleasure of seeing four that are going home in the Paget, destined for her Majesty's stables.
The Imaum of Muscat lately sent a present of horses to Bombay, but they were not of high caste; those I have mentioned, as intended for the Queen, being of a much finer breed. They are beautiful creatures, and are to be put under the care of an English groom, who has the charge of some English horses purchased in London for a native Parsee gentleman. From the extent of the Arab stables, and the number of Arab horse-merchants in Bombay, it would appear easy to have the choice of the finest specimens; but this is not the case, while various circumstances have combined to reduce the numbers of native horses, which were formerly readily procurable. Thus, the fine breed of Kattywar is not now attainable, and the same value does not appear to be set upon horses from Kutch and the Deccan, which in other parts of India are esteemed to be so serviceable. Persian horses are little prized; and those imported from England, though very showy and handsome, will not do much work in this climate, and are therefore only suited to rich people, who can keep them for display. The stud-horses bred near Poonah do not come into the market so freely as in the Bengal presidency, where they are easily procurable, and are sought after as buggy and carriage horses. Old residents, I am told, prefer the Arabs, the good qualities of these celebrated steeds requiring long acquaintance to be justly appreciated, while persons new to the country can see nothing but faults in them.
A novel feature in Bombay, to persons who have only visited the other side of India, is found in the hay-stack, the people having discovered the advantage of cutting and drying the grass for future use. Immense numbers of carts, drawn by bullocks and loaded with hay, come every day into the island; this hay is stacked in large enclosures built for the purpose, and can be purchased in any quantity. There are large open spaces, near tanks or wells, on the road-side, which give the idea of a hay-market; the carts being drawn up, and the patient bullock, always an accompaniment to an Indian rural scene, unyoked, reposing on the ground. The drivers, apparently, do not seek the shelter of a roof, but kindle their cooking-fires on the flats on the opposite side of the road, and sleep at night under the shelter of their carts. The causeway which unites the island of Bombay with its neighbour, Salsette, affords a safe and convenient road, greatly facilitating the carriage of supplies of various kinds necessary for the consumption of so populous a place.
The villagers at Metunga, and other places, make as much hay as their fields will supply for their own use, and have hit upon a singular method of stacking it. They choose some large tree, and lodge the hay in its branches, which thus piled up, assumes the appearance of an immense bee-hive. This precaution is taken to preserve the crop from the depredations of cattle, and, if more troublesome, is less expensive than fencing it round. From the miserably lean condition of many of the unfortunate animals, which their Hindu masters worship and starve, it would appear that, notwithstanding its seeming abundance, they are very scantily supplied with hay. It is a pity that some agriculturist does not suggest the expedience of feeding them upon fish, which, as they are cleanly animals, they would eat while fresh.
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The Climate of Bombay treacherous in the cold season—The land-wind injurious to health—The Air freely admitted into Rooms—The Climate of the Red Sea not injurious to Silk dresses—Advice to lady-passengers on the subject of dress—The Shops of Bombay badly provided—Speculations on the site of the City, should the seat of Government be removed hither—The Esplanade—Exercise of Sailors on Shore and on Ship-board—Mock-fight—Departure of Sir Henry Fane—Visit to a fair in Mahim Wood—Prophecy—Shrine of Mugdooree Sahib—Description of the Fair—Visit to the mansion of a Moonshee—His Family—Crowds of Vehicles returning from the Fair—Tanks—Festival of the Duwallee—Visit to a Parsee—Singular ceremony—The Women of India impede the advance of improvement—They oppose every departure from established rules—Effect of Education in Bombay yet superficial—Cause of the backwardness of Native Education.
Every day's experience of the climate of Bombay assures me that, in what is called the cold season, at least, it is the most treacherous in the world; and that, moreover, its dangers are not sufficiently guarded against by the inhabitants. Cold weather, such as takes place during the period from November to March, in all parts of Bengal, is not felt here, the days being more or less sultry, and tempered only by cold, piercing winds.
The land-wind, which blows alternately with the sea-breezes, comes fraught with all the influences most baneful to health; cramps, rheumatic pains, even head-aches and indigestion, brought on by cold, are the consequences to susceptible persons of exposure to this wind, either during the day or the night: so severe and so manifold are the pains and aches which attend it, that I feel strongly inclined to believe that Bombay, and not "the vexed Bermoothes," was the island of Prospero, and that the plagues showered upon Caliban still remain. Though the progress of acclimation can scarcely fail to be attended by danger to life or limb, the process, when completed, seems to be very effectual, since little or no pains are taken by the old inhabitants to guard against the evil.
Some of the withdrawing-rooms of Bombay are perfectly open at either end, and though the effect is certainly beautiful—a charming living landscape of wood and water, framed in by the pillars at the angles of the chamber—yet it is enjoyed at too great a risk. Dining-rooms are frequently nearly as much exposed, the aim of everybody apparently being to admit as great a quantity of air as possible, no matter from what point of the compass it blows. Strangers, therefore, however guarded they may be in their own apartments, can never emerge from them without incurring danger, and it is only by clothing themselves more warmly than can be at all reconciled with comfort, that they can escape from rheumatic or other painful attacks.
These land-winds are also very destructive to the goods and chattels exposed to them; desks are warped and will not shut, leather gloves and shoes become so dry that they shrink and divide, while all unseasoned wood is speedily split across. It is said that the hot weather is never so fierce in Bombay as in Bengal, the sea-breezes, which sometimes blow very strongly, and are not so injurious as those from the land, affording a daily relief.
It may be necessary, for the advantage of succeeding travellers, to say that, in passing down the Red Sea, in the autumn and winter months, no danger need be apprehended from the effects of the climate upon coloured silks. It was not possible for me to burthen myself with tin cases, and I was obliged to put my wearing apparel, ribbons, &c, into portmanteaus, with no other precaution than a wrapper of brown paper. Nothing, however, was injured, and satin dresses previously worn came out as fresh as possible: a circumstance which never happens in the voyage round the Cape.
And now, while upon the subject of dress, I will further say, that it is advisable for ladies to bring out with them to Bombay every thing they can possibly want, since the shops, excepting immediately after the arrival of a ship, are very poorly provided, while the packs, for few have attained to the dignity of tin boxes, brought about by the hawkers, contain the most wretched assortment of goods imaginable. The moment, therefore, that the cargo of a vessel hag been purchased by the retail dealers, all that is really elegant or fashionable is eagerly purchased, and the rejected articles, even should they be equally excellent, when once consigned to the dingy precincts of a Bombay shop, lose all their lustre. The most perfect bonnet that Maradan ever produced, if once gibbeted in one of Muncherjee's glass-cases, could never be worn by a lady of the slightest pretensions. Goods to the amount of L300 were sold in one morning, it is said, in the above-mentioned worthy's shop, and those who were unable to pay it a visit on the day of the opening of the cases, must either content themselves with the leavings, or wait the arrival of another ship.
It is but justice to Miss Lyndsay, the English milliner, to say that she always appears to be well provided; but as her establishment is the only one of the kind in Bombay, there must necessarily be a sameness in the patterns of the articles made up. The want of variety is the evil most strongly felt in Anglo-Indian toilets; and, therefore, in preparing investments, large numbers of the same pieces of silk ribbons should be avoided, nobody liking to appear in a general uniform, or livery.
The stoppage of the China trade has cut off one abundant source of supply, of which the ladies of Bombay were wise enough to avail themselves. It is difficult now to procure a morsel of China silk in the shops, and there appears to be little chance of any goods of the kind coming into the market, until the present differences between Great Britain and the Celestial Empire shall be adjusted. With the exception of the common and trifling articles brought about by hawkers, every thing that is wanted for an Anglo-Indian establishment must be sent for to the Fort, from which many of the houses are situated, four, five, or six miles.
As there are populous villages at Bycullah, Mazagong, &c, it seems strange that no European bazaars have been established at these intermediate places for the convenience of the inhabitants, who, with the exception of a few fowls, do not usually keep much in the way of a farmyard. With an increase in the number of inhabitants, of course shops would start up in the most eligible situations, and should the anticipated change take place, and Bombay become the seat of the Supreme Government, the demands of the new establishment would no doubt be speedily supplied.
It is impossible, however idle the speculation may be, not to busy the mind with fancies concerning the site of the city which it is supposed would arise in the event of the Governor-general being instructed to take up his abode at Bombay. The Esplanade has been mentioned as the most probable place, although in building over this piece of ground the island would, in a great measure, be deprived of its lungs, and the enjoyment of that free circulation of air, which appears to be so essential to the existence of Anglo-Indians, who seem to require the whole expanse of heaven in order to breathe with freedom. The happy medium between the want of air and its excess will not answer the demand, and accordingly the Esplanade, no matter how strongly the wind blows, is a favourite resort. Although its general features are unattractive, it occasionally presents a very animated scene; the review of the troops in the garrison is seen to great advantage, and forms a spectacle always interesting and imposing.
This mustering of the troops is occasionally varied by military exercises of a more novel nature. The sailors of the flag-ship are brought on shore, for the purpose of perfecting themselves in the manual and platoon exercise, and in the performance of such military evolutions as would enable them to co-operate successfully with a land force, or to act alone with greater efficiency upon any emergency. Though not possessing much skill in military affairs, I was pleased with the ease and precision with which they executed the different movements, their steadiness in marching, and the promptness with which the line was dressed. They brought field-pieces on shore with them, which, according to my poor judgment, were admirably worked. These parades were the more interesting, in consequence of the expected war with China, a war in which the sailors of the Wellesley will, no doubt, be actively engaged.
I had also an opportunity of witnessing from the deck of that vessel, when accompanying the Governor's party on board, the manoeuvring of the ship's boats while landing a force. The mock fight was carried on with great spirit, and the most beautiful effect; the flashing from the guns in the bows of the boats and the musketry, amid the exquisite blue smoke issuing from the smaller species of artillery, producing fire-works which, in my opinion, could not be excelled by any of the most elaborate construction. The features of the landscape, no doubt, assisted to heighten the effect of the scene—a back-ground of lovely purple islands—a sea, like glass, calmly, brightly, beautifully blue—and the flotilla of boats, grouped as a painter would group them, and carrying on a running fire, which added much to the animation of their evolutions, the smoke occasionally enveloping the whole in vapour, and then showing the eager forms of men, as it rolled off in silvery clouds towards the distant hills.
As I gazed upon this armament, and upon the palm-woods that fringed the shore, I could not help calling to mind the lawless doings of the buccaneers of old, and the terror spread through towns and villages by the appearance of a fleet of boats, manned by resolute crews, and armed with the most deadly weapons of destruction. The sight realized also the descriptions given in modern novels of the capture of towns, and I could easily imagine the great excitement which would lead daring men to the execution of deeds, almost incredible to those who have never felt their spirits stirred and their arms nerved by danger, close, imminent, and only to be mastered by the mightiest efforts.
When any tamasha, as the natives call it, is going on upon the Esplanade, near the beach, they add very considerably to the effect of the scene, by grouping themselves upon the bales of cotton, piled near the wharf for exportation: those often appear to be a mass of human beings, so thickly are they covered with eager gazers. Upon the occasion of the departure of Sir Henry Fane to England, there appeared to be a general turn-out of the whole of Bombay, and the effect was impressive and striking. The road down to the Bunder, or place of embarkation, was lined with soldiers, the bands of the different regiments playing while the cortege passed. All the ladies made their appearance in open carriages, while the gentlemen mounted on horseback, and joined the cavalcade. A large party of native gentlemen assembled on foot at the Bunder, for the purpose of showing a last mark of respect to a distinguished officer, about to leave the country for ever.
Sir Henry, accompanied by his staff, but all in plain clothes, drove down the road in a barouche, attended by an escort of cavalry, and seemed to be much affected by the tokens of esteem which he received on every hand. He left the shore amidst the waving of handkerchiefs, and a salute of seventeen guns, and would have been greeted with hearty cheers, did military discipline allow of such manifestation of the feelings.
Sights and scenes like these will, of course, always attract numerous spectators, while on the evenings in which the band plays, there is a fair excuse for making the Esplanade the object of the drive; but Bombay affords so many avenues possessing much greater beauty, that I am always delighted when I can diversify the scene by a visit to places not nearly so much in request, but which are to me infinitely more interesting, as developing some charm of nature, or displaying the habits and manners of the people of the country. With these views and feelings, I was much pleased at receiving an invitation to accompany some friends to a fair held in Mahim Wood—that sea of palm-trees, which I had often looked down upon from Chintapootzlee Hill with so much pleasure.
The fair was held, as is usual in oriental countries, in honour of a saint, whose canonized bones rest beneath a tomb apparently of no great antiquity, but which the people, who are not the best chronologists in the world, fancy to be of very ancient date. The name of the celebrated person thus enshrined was Mugdooree Sahib, a devotee, who added the gift of prophecy to his other high qualifications, and amongst other things has predicted that, when the town shall join the wood, Bombay shall be no more. The accomplishment of what in his days must have appeared very unlikely ever to take place—namely, the junction of inhabited dwellings with the trees of Mahim—seems to be in rapid course of fulfilment; the land has been drained, many portions formerly impassable filled up, and rendered solid ground, while the houses are extending so fast, that the Burruh Bazaar will in no very long period, in all probability, extend to Mahim. Those who attach some faith to the prophecy, yet are unwilling to believe that evil and not good will befal the "rising presidency," are of opinion that some change of name will take place when it shall be made the seat of the Supreme Government: thus the saint's credit will be saved, and no misfortune happen to the good town of Bombay. The superstitious of all persuasions, the Christians perhaps excepted—though many of the Portuguese Christians have little more than the name—unite in showing reverence to the shrine of the saint, while Mugdooree Sahib is held quite as much in estimation by the Hindus as by the followers of he own corrupted creed, the Mohammedans of Bombay being by no means orthodox.
Many respectable natives have built houses for themselves at Mahim, on purpose to have a place for their families during the time of the fair, while others hire houses or lodgings, for which they will pay as much as twenty rupees for the few days that it lasts. A delightful drive brought us to the confines of the wood; the whole way along, we passed one continuous string of bullock-carriages, filled with people of all tribes and castes, while others, who could not afford this mode of conveyance, were seen in groups, trudging on foot, leading their elder children, and carrying their younger in their arms. The road wound very prettily through the wood, which at every turn presented some charming bits of forest scenery, shown to great advantage in the crimson light of evening, which, as it faded, produced those wild, shadowy illusions, which lend enchantment to every view. Parasitical plants, climbing up the trunks of many of the trees, and flinging themselves in rich garlands from bough to bough, relieved the monotony of the tall, straight palm-trees, and produced delicious green recesses, the dearest charm of woodland scenery.
I have frequently felt a strong desire to dwell under the shade of forest boughs, for there is something in that sylvan kind of life so redolent of the hunter's merry horn, the mating song of birds, and the gurgling of secret rills, as to possess indescribable charms to a lover of the picturesque. Now, however, experience in sober realities having dispelled the illusions of romance, I should choose a cottage in some cleared space by the wood-side, though at this dry season of the year, and mid the perpetual sunshine of its skies, the heart of Mahim Wood would form a very agreeable residence.
The first house we came to was very comfortable, and almost English in its appearance; a small, neat mansion, with its little court-yard before it, such as we should not be surprised to see in some old-fashioned country village at home. Straggling huts on either side brought us to the principal street of Mahim, and here we found the houses lighted, and lamps suspended, in imitation of bunches of grapes, before all that were ambitious of making a good appearance.
After passing the shops belonging to the village—the grain-sellers, the pan-sellers, and other venders of articles in common demand—we came to a series of booths, exactly resembling those used for the same purpose in England, and well supplied with both native and foreign products. The display was certainly much greater than any I had expected to see. Some of the shops were filled with French, English, and Dutch toys; others with China and glass ornaments; then came one filled with coloured glass bangles, and every kind of native ornament in talc and tinsel, all set off with a profusion of lights. Instead of gingerbread, there were immense quantities of metai, or sweetmeats, of different shapes and forms, and various hues; sugar rock-work, pink, white, and yellow, with all sorts and descriptions of cakes. The carriage moved slowly through the crowd, and at length, finding it inconvenient to proceed farther in it, we alighted.
Our party had come to Mahim upon the invitation of a very respectable moonshee, who had his country-house there, and who was anxious to do the honours of the fair to the English strangers, my friends, like myself, being rather new to Bombay. We met the old gentleman at an opening in the village, leading to the tomb of the saint, and his offer to conduct us to the sacred shrine formed a farther inducement to leave the carriage, and venture through the crowd on foot.
The tomb, which was strongly illuminated, proved to be a white-washed building, having a dome in the centre, and four minarets, one at each angle, standing in a small enclosure, the walls of which were also newly white-washed, and approached by a flight of steps, leading into a portico. Upon either side of the avenue from the village were seated multitudes of men and women, who, if not beggars by profession, made no scruple to beg on this occasion.
I felt at first sorry that I had neglected to bring any money with me, but when I saw the crowd of applicants, whom it would have been impossible to satisfy, and recollected that my liberality would doubtless have been attributed to faith in the virtues of the saint, I no longer regretted the omission. The steps of the tomb were lined with these beggars, all vociferating at once, while other religious characters were singing with all the power of their lungs, and a native band, stationed in the verandah of the tomb, were at the same time making the most hideous discord by the help of all kinds of diabolical instruments.
Having a magistrate of our party, we were well protected by the police, who, without using any rudeness, kept the people off. So far from being uncivil, the natives seemed pleased to see us at the fair, and readily made way, until we came to the entrance of the chamber in which, under a sarcophagus, the body of the saint was deposited. Here we were told that we could proceed no farther, unless we consented to take off our shoes, a ceremony with which we did not feel disposed to comply, especially as we could see all that the chamber contained through the open door, and had no intention to pay homage to the saint. The sarcophagus, according to custom, was covered with a rich pall, and the devout pressed forward to lay their offerings upon it. These offerings consisted of money, cloths, grain, fruit, &c. nothing coming amiss, the priests of the temple being quite ready to take the gifts which the poorest could bestow. The beggars in the porch were more clamorous than ever, the maam sahibs being especially entreated to bestow their charity.
Having satisfied my curiosity, I was glad to get away into the fair, where I found many things more interesting. Convenient spaces in the wood were filled with merry-go-rounds, swings, and other locomotive machinery, of precisely the same description as those exhibited in England, and which I had seen in Hyde Park at the fair held there, in honour of Queen Victoria. Mahim Wood boasted no theatres or wild-beast shows, neither were we treated with the sight of giants or dwarfs; but there was no want of booths for the purpose of affording refreshment. One of these cafes, the front of which was entirely open, was most brilliantly illuminated, and filled with numerous tables, covered with a multitude of good things. That it was expected to be the resort of English guests was apparent, from an inscription painted in white letters, rather askew, upon a black board, to the following effect: "Tea, Coffee, and Pastry-House."
We were invited to enter this splendid establishment by the moonshee, who had evidently ordered a refection to be prepared for the occasion. Being unwilling to disappoint the old gentleman, we took the seats offered to us, and ate the cakes, and drank the coffee, presented by some respectable-looking Parsees, the owners of the shop, which they had taken pains to set off in the European style. Although the natives of India will not eat with us, as they know that we do not scruple to partake of food prepared for their tables, they are mortified and disappointed at any refusal to taste the good things set before us; the more we eat, the greater being the compliment. I was consequently obliged to convey away some of the cakes in my handkerchief, to avoid the alternatives of making myself ill or of giving offence.
When we were sufficiently rested and refreshed, we followed the moonshee to his mansion. The moon was at the full, and being at this time well up, lighted us through the less thronged avenues of the village, these tangled lanes, with the exception of a few candles, having no other illumination. Here, seated in corners upon the ground, were the more humble traders of the fair, venders of fruit, the larger kind being divided into slices for the convenience of poor customers. In one spot, a group of dissipated characters were assembled round bottles and drinking-vessels (of which the contents bore neither the colour nor the smell of sherbet), who were evidently determined to make a night of it over the fermented juice of the palm. From what I have seen, I am inclined to believe sobriety to be as rare a virtue in Bombay as in London; toddy-shops appear to be greatly upon the increase, and certainly in every direction there are already ample means of gratifying a love of spirituous liquors. In other places, the usual occupation of frying fish was going on, while a taste for sweet things might be gratified by confectionary of an ordinary description compared with that exhibited in the shops.
As we receded from the fair, the bright illumination in the distance, the twinkling lights in the fore-ground, dimly revealing dusky figures cowering round their fires, and the dark depths of the wood beyond, with now and then a gleam of moonshine streaming on its tangled paths, made up a landscape roll of scenic effects. Getting deeper and deeper into the wood, we came at last to a small modest mansion, standing in the corner of a garden, and shadowed by palm-trees, through which the moon-beams chequered our path. We did not enter the house, contenting ourselves with seats in the verandah, where the children of our host, his wife or wives not making their appearance, were assembled. The elder boys addressed us in very good English, and were, the moonshee told us, well acquainted with the Guzerattee and Mahratta languages; he had also bestowed an education upon his daughters, who were taught to read in the vernacular.
The old man told us that he was born in Mahim Wood at the time of the festival, and, though a Hindu, had had the name of Mugdooree, that of the saint, bestowed upon him, for a good omen. Having a great affection for his native place, he had, as soon as he could command the means, built the house which we now saw, and in which he always resided during the fair, which was called oories, or the Mugdooree Sahib's oories, at Mahim. After sitting some time with the old man, and admiring the effect of the moonlight among the palm-trees, we rose to depart. In taking leave of the spot, I could not repress a wish to see it under a different aspect, although it required very slight aid from fancy to picture it as it would appear in the rains, with mildew in the drip of those pendant palm branches, green stagnant pools in every hollow, toads crawling over the garden paths, and snakes lurking beneath every stone.
Returning to the place in which we had left the carriage, we found the fair more crowded than ever, the numbers of children, if possible, exceeding those to be seen at English places of resort of the same nature. The upper rooms of the superior houses, many of which seemed to be large and handsome, were well lighted and filled with company, many of the most respectable amongst the Hindus, Mohammedans, and Parsees, repairing to Mahim, to recreate themselves during the festival. The shops had put on even a gayer appearance, and though there was no rich merchandize to be seen, the character of the meeting being merely that of a rustic fair, I was greatly surprised by the elegance of some of the commodities, and the taste of their arrangement.
It was evident that all the purchasers must be native, and consequently I could not help feeling some astonishment at the large quantities of expensive European toys with which whole booths were filled. Dolls, which were to me a novelty in my late visit to Paris, with real hair dressed in the newest fashion, were abundant; and so were those excellent representations of animals from Germany, known by the name of "Barking toys." The price of these things, demanded of our party at least, was high. I had wished to possess myself of something as a remembrance of this fair, but as the old moonshee was the only individual amongst us who carried any money about him, I did not like him to become my banker on this occasion, lest he should not permit me to pay him again, and I should by this means add to the disbursements already made upon our account.
Upon leaving the fair, we found some difficulty in steering our way through the bullock-carriages which almost blocked up the road, and as we drove along the grand thoroughfare towards Girgaum, a populous portion of the native town, the visitants seemed to increase; cart followed upon cart in quick succession, all the bullocks in Bombay, numerous as they are, appearing to have been mustered for the occasion.
In the different drives which I have taken through the island, I have come upon several fine tanks, enclosed by solid masonry of dark-coloured stone; but, with the exception, in some instances, of one or two insignificant pillars or minarets, they are destitute of those architectural ornaments which add so much splendour to the same works in Bengal. The broad flights of steps, the richly decorated temple, or the range of small pagodas, so frequently to be seen by the side of the tanks and bowlies in other parts of India, are here unknown; the more ancient native buildings which I have yet examined being, comparatively speaking, of a mean and paltry description, while all the handsome modern houses are built after the European manner. There is one feature, however, with which I am greatly pleased—the perpetual recurrence of seats and ledges made in the walls which enclose gentlemen's gardens and grounds, or run along the roads, and which seem to be intended as places of repose for the wayfarer, or as a rest to his burthen.
It is always agreeable to see needful accommodation afforded to the poor and to the stranger; public benefits, however trifling, displaying liberality of mind in those who can give consideration to the wants and feelings of multitudes from whom they can hope for no return. These seats frequently occur close to the gate of some spacious dwelling, and may be supposed to be intended for the servants and dependants of the great man, or those who wait humbly on the outside of his mansion; but they as frequently are found upon the high roads, or by the side of wells and tanks.
The festival of the Duwallee has taken place since my arrival in Bombay, and though I have seen it celebrated before, and more splendidly in one particular—namely, the illuminations—I never had the same opportunity of witnessing other circumstances connected with ceremonies performed at the opening of the new year of the Hindus. When I speak of the superiority of the illuminations, I allude to their taste and effect; there were plenty of lights in Bombay, but they were differently disposed, and did not mark the outline of the buildings in the beautiful manner which prevails upon the other side of India, every person lighting up his own house according to his fancy. Upon the eve of the new year, while driving through the bazaar, we saw preparations for the approaching festival; many of the houses were well garnished with lamps, the shops were swept and put into order, and the horns of the bullocks were garlanded with flowers, while fire-works, and squibs and crackers, were going off in all directions.
On the following evening, I went with a party of friends, by invitation, to the house of a native gentleman, a Parsee merchant of old family and great respectability, and as we reached the steps of his door, a party of men came up with sticks in their hands, answering to our old English morice-dancers. These men were well clad in white dresses, with flowers stuck in their turbans; they formed a circle somewhat resembling the figure of moulinet, but without joining hands, the inner party striking their sticks as they danced round against those on the outer ring, and all joining in a rude but not unmusical chorus. The gestures of these men, though wild, were neither awkward nor uncouth, the sticks keeping excellent time with the song and with the action of their feet. After performing sundry evolutions, and becoming nearly out of breath, they desisted, and called upon the spectators to reward their exertions. Having received a present, they went into the court-yard of the next mansion, which belonged to one of the richest native merchants in Bombay, and there renewed their dance.
We found in the drawing-room of our host's house a large company assembled. The upper end was covered with a white cloth, and all round, seated on the floor against the walls, were grave-looking Parsees, many being of advanced years. They had their books and ledgers open before them, the ceremony about to be commenced consisting of the blessing or consecration of the account-books, in order to secure prosperity for the ensuing year. The officiating priests were brahmins, the custom and the festival—of which Lacshmee, the goddess of wealth, is the patroness—being purely Hindu.
The Parsees of India, sole remnant of the ancient fire-worshippers, have sadly degenerated from that pure faith held by their forefathers, and for which they became fugitives and exiles. What persecution failed to accomplish, kindness has effected, and their religion has been corrupted by the taint of Hinduism, in consequence of their long and friendly intercourse with the people, who permitted them to dwell in their land, and to take their daughters in marriage. Incense was burning on a tripod placed upon the floor, and the priests muttering prayers, which sounded very like incantations, ever and anon threw some new perfume upon the charcoal, which produced what our friend Dousterswivel would call a "suffumigation." These preliminaries over, they caused each person to write a few words in the open book before him, and then threw upon the leaves a portion of grain. After this had been distributed, they made the circle again, and threw gold leaf upon the volumes; then came spices and betel-nut, cut in small pieces, and lastly flowers, and a profusion of the red powder (abeer) so lavishly employed in Hindu festivals. More incense was burned, and the ceremony concluded, the merchants rising and congratulating each other. Formerly, when our host was a more wealthy man than, in consequence of sundry misfortunes, he is at present, he was in the habit of disbursing Rs. 10,000 in gifts upon this day: everybody that came to the house receiving something.
The custom of blessing the books, after the Hindu manner, will in all probability shortly decline among the Parsees, the younger portion being already of opinion that it is a vain and foolish ceremony, borrowed from strangers; and, indeed, the elders of the party were at some pains to convince me that they merely complied with it in consequence of a stipulation entered into with the Hindus, when they granted them an asylum, to observe certain forms and ceremonies connected with their customs, assuring me that they did not place any reliance upon the favour of the goddess, looking only for the blessing of God to prosper their undertakings.
This declaration, however, was somewhat in contradiction to one circumstance, which I omitted to mention, namely, that before the assembled Parsees rose from the floor, they permitted the officiating brahmins to mark their foreheads with the symbol of the goddess, thus virtually admitting her supremacy. The lamps were then lighted, and we were presented with the usual offering of bouquets of roses, plentifully bedewed with goolabee panee, or the distilled tears of the flower, to speak poetically; and having admired the children of the family, who were brought out in their best dresses and jewels, took our leave. The ladies, the married daughters and daughters-in-law of our host, did not make their appearance upon this occasion; for, though not objecting to be seen in public, they are not fond of presenting themselves in their own houses before strangers.
It is the women of India who are at this moment impeding the advance of improvement; they have hitherto been so ill-educated, their minds left so entirely uncultivated, that they have had nothing to amuse or interest them excepting the ceremonies of their religion, and the customs with which it is encumbered. These, notwithstanding that many are inconvenient, and others entail much suffering, they are unwilling to relinquish. Every departure from established rule, which their male relatives deem expedient, they resolutely oppose, employing the influence which women, however contemned as the weaker vessel, always do possess, and always will exert, in perpetuating all the evils resulting from ignorance. The sex will ever be found active either in advancing or retarding great changes, and whether this activity be employed for good or for evil, depends upon the manner in which their intellectual faculties have been trained and cultivated.