INDIA AND THE
BY EDWARD F. ELWIN
OF THE SOCIETY OF ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST, COWLEY
AUTHOR OF "INDIAN JOTTINGS," "THIRTY-FOUR YEARS IN POONA CITY," "STORIES OF INDIAN BOYS," ETC.
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
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India is really waking up, but she is doing so in her own Indian way. For some years past it has been one of my daily duties to arouse an Indian boy, and I know exactly how an Indian wakes. It is a leisurely process. He slowly stretches his legs and rubs his eyes, and it is at least ten minutes before he can be said to be really wide awake. And every morning I have to say exactly the same thing: "Now remember, Felix, to say your prayers; then go and wash your hands and face, and then feed the pony." And if on any particular morning I were to leave this reminder unsaid, and Felix left any, or all of these duties, undone, and I were to ask him the reason, he would reply, "You did not tell me."
With India waking up, there never was a time when she stands more in need of some kindly person at her side to tell her what to do. She needs to be taught to say her prayers, because with the old religion gone and the True Faith dimly understood, India would be in the appalling condition of a great country without a religion. We need to tell her to wash her hands and face, because there are certain elementary matters of sanitation which must be attended to if India is ever to become a wholesome and prosperous country. And we have got to teach her how to work, because India wide awake, but idle, might easily become a source of great mischief.
Every Englishman who takes pleasure in the sense of Empire ought to realise that it brings with it great responsibilities, and therefore that every Englishman has a measure of responsibility towards India. We must be taking care that, if when she is wide awake she fails to fulfil her great vocation, at any rate she shall have no cause to utter against us the reproach, You never told me.
A better understanding of what India and the people who live in it are really like, seems to be the necessary preparation for sympathy and work of any sort connected with that country; and to help, in however small a degree, to bring about this end is the object of this book. I have had unusually favourable and varied opportunities for getting to know intimately the inner side of Indian life and character during a somewhat long residence in this country. The contents of the book are exceedingly miscellaneous because the daily experiences have been equally so. Everything that is told is the outcome of my own personal observations amongst a people to whom I am deeply attached, and I have taken the utmost pains to record nothing of which I was not sure, and to verify everything concerning which I was doubtful.
The photographs were all taken by Brother Arthur of our Society.
EDWARD F. ELWIN.
POONA DISTRICT, INDIA.
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I. INTRODUCTORY 1
II. INDIAN HOSPITALITY 11
III. THE INDIAN VIEW OF NATURE AND ARCHITECTURE 17
IV. INDIAN EMPLOYEES OF LABOUR 24
V. THE INDIAN POSTAL SERVICE 32
VI. INDIANS AND ENGLISH CUSTOMS 40
VII. INDIAN UNPUNCTUALITY 48
VIII. INDIAN POVERTY 54
IX. INDIAN ART 60
X. THE INDIAN VILLAGE 66
XI. INDIAN ENTERTAINMENTS 74
XII. THE CONVERSION OF INDIA 83
XIII. MISSION WORK IN INDIA 89
XIV. INDIAN MUSIC 98
XV. INDIAN MEALS 105
XVI. HINDU PHILOSOPHY 111
XVII. HINDUS AND RELIGION 117
XVIII. RELIGIOUS PHASES IN INDIA 124
XIX. GAMES IN INDIA 130
XX. INDIAN WRESTLERS 137
XXI. BOOKS IN INDIA 143
XXII. INDIAN PAGEANTS 151
XXIII. THE INDIAN CHARACTER 157
XXIV. RELIGIOUS CONTROVERSY IN INDIA 164
XXV. WILD BEASTS IN INDIA 170
XXVI. SOME INDIAN ANIMALS 176
XXVII. THE INDIAN WORLD OF NATURE 182
XXVIII. INSECTS IN INDIA 188
XXIX. THE INDIAN ASCETIC 196
XXX. THE INDIAN WIDOW 204
XXXI. WRONGDOING IN INDIA 212
XXXII. PROPERTY IN INDIA 221
XXXIII. EAST AND WEST TRAVELLING 228
XXXIV. CUSTOMS OF EAST AND WEST 234
XXXV. SERVANTS IN INDIA 241
XXXVI. THE EDUCATED HINDU 247
XXXVII. UNFINISHED PLANS IN INDIA 256
XXXVIII. GIFTS IN INDIA 263
XXXIX. PROVERBIAL SAYINGS ABOUT INDIA 270
XL. INDIAN UNREST 278
XLI. THE ENGLISH IN INDIA 288
XLII. DISHONESTY IN INDIA 295
XLIII. INDIAN MOHAMMEDANS 302
XLIV. NIGHT ALARMS IN INDIA 309
XLV. THE INDIAN WASHERMAN 317
XLVI. AGRICULTURE IN INDIA 328
XLVII. EAST AND WEST ON BOARD SHIP 337
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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
FELIX TIPNIS Frontispiece
SWITHUN'S NEW HOME IN THE VILLAGE To face page 16
YERANDAWANA CHURCH FROM A DISTANCE " 20
THE INDIAN VILLAGE POSTMAN " 38
NARAYEN KHILARI, A FARMER'S SON " 42
THE KINDLY HINDU NEIGHBOUR AND HIS FAMILY " 48
A MODERN HOUSE IN POONA CITY " 60
MRS SALOME ZADHAW " 66
RAGU, THE NIGHT-WATCHMAN " 72
THE YERANDAWANA VILLAGE WRESTLERS " 138
NIRARI BHOSLE, THE MISCHIEVOUS VILLAGE BOY " 168
MILKING THE BUFFALO " 180
DOWD PHERIDE, THE EGG-MERCHANT'S SON " 198
SARLA KALU, THE YERANDAWANA WIDOW " 206
THE INDIAN BUTLER " 242
THE CEMETERY CROSS " 268
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INDIA AND THE INDIANS
Misconceptions about India. Hinduism. An "infernal religion." Hindu mythology. Ascetics. Translations of Hindu sacred books. Modern and ancient ways of teaching Christianity. Danger of the incorporation of a false Christ into Hinduism. Hindu India as it really is. Definitions of "What is Hinduism?" from representative Hindus.
India is not really quite so mysterious a country as it appears to be on first acquaintance. But you have to live there a long time before things begin to reveal their real shape. It is only on the ground of long residence, and frequent and often close intercourse with a great variety of Indians, that I venture now and then to give some of my experiences to others. India remains almost an unknown land to a large number of people in spite of all that has been written or spoken about it, and it is hard to dissipate the many misconceptions which exist concerning the country. Some of these misconceptions came into being years ago, but they have become stereotyped. They were presumably the outcome of hasty conclusions drawn from superficial knowledge. But even visitors to India often view the country in the light of preconceived ideas which they have either heard or read of, and they therefore fail to see things as they really are.
It is inevitable in dealing with Indian things that the defects of the people of the country should occupy rather a prominent place. The cause is their misfortune and not their fault. They have many delightful natural characteristics, and the years that I have lived amongst them have only served to increase my deep affection for the people of India, and the real pleasure that I find in their society. The defects of Hindus come from their religion, which is deeply steeped in idolatry, and neither gives them a code of morality, nor grace to keep one if it had been given. The strongest denunciations of Hinduism come from the people themselves. I often repeat what the old Brahmin, who lived and died a Hindu, said when he roared out to me, "It is a most infernal religion." And he proceeded to give instances of its infernal nature which it is impossible to print, but which justified the expression.
A Hindu admits the beauty of a moral life, but puts it aside as impossible of fulfilment. He has no creed, and cannot tell you what he believes. He is in doubt and uncertainty both as regards where man came from, and whither he is going. Nearly every Hindu is an idolater at some time or other, if only to please his wife, or to oblige a friend. Some, nowadays, try to explain away the custom as being merely an ancient tradition, but on that account to be respected; or as edifying for the ignorant, who cannot find God in any other way.
The histories of the gods, like all heathen mythology, consist of tales, some picturesque, some foolish, some dull and childish, some obscene. How far the educated Hindu believes them it is difficult to know. Those that are obviously absurd he will say are allegorical, and in spite of their diversity he will maintain that they are all manifestations of one god. The uneducated rustic, so far as he is familiar with these stories, believes them.
The ascetic life, at any rate as represented by the professional ascetics of India, is not held in admiration by the people of the country. The real character of most of the wandering ascetics is perfectly well known. But the people fear their curse; hence they give them alms, and a measure of outward respect. That their profession and their conduct are so often in contradiction does not apparently excite surprise.
Some English translations of Hindu sacred books must be taken with a certain amount of caution. Enthusiastic and poetically inclined minds have produced translations which can only be said to remotely represent the originals (if we are to accept the opinion of some who are competent to know), into which they have read much more than is really to be found there. Also, terms taken from Christian theology have, of necessity, a much fuller meaning to the minds of Christian people who read them than is to be found in the vernacular expression which they represent. Short extracts, given without the context, are proverbially misleading, according to the individual bias of the extractor, either favourable or the reverse.
Kindly advisers have been urging lately that missionaries should try and discover what is good in Hinduism, and on that foundation gradually build up the truths of Christianity. It would be just as reasonable to expect to draw sweet water from a bitter spring. The old teachers of Christianity in India preached it as a matter of life and death, as indeed it is, and they made converts from amongst the educated men. A Brahmin convert has told me that what impelled him to carry his convictions to their proper conclusion was the belief that if he held back he would be lost.
The apologetic way in which Christianity is sometimes preached at the present day in India, in response to these well-meant but dangerous promptings, may possibly lead to the disastrous result of the incorporation of a kind of false Christ into Hinduism. Our Lord is greatly admired by a large number of intelligent Hindus. The Bible is often quoted by public speakers to illustrate some point in their speech; not always, of course, with accuracy or appropriateness. Now and then a Hindu will say that he is a Christian in heart; and that being so, he pleads to be dispensed from the inconvenient ceremonial of baptism, which would separate him from his own people. The laxity of many Nonconformists, and some others, concerning baptism, gives him some ground for making this petition.
To take a measure of Christian morality into Hinduism, to place the Bible alongside their other sacred books, and to worship Christ along with Krishna, would satisfy modern Hindu aspirations without entailing much practical inconvenience.
In trying to describe everyday life in India, we shall at every turn meet with instances of the effect that Hinduism has in warping and marring natures which otherwise have so much which is attractive. But the sole purpose of this book is to try and depict Hindu India as it really is. People will only be stimulated to pray and work for the country with the energy and fullness of purpose which the case demands, when they have realised that the matter is vital and urgent. People will understand how greatly Christian Indians need the prayers of others when they realise that they have to lead their lives in the midst of evil, inconceivably great, and with the weight of inherited tendencies of wrong hindering their efforts to do right. Nor will charitable persons be forgetful to pray for those who have to try and shepherd these sheep and lambs, whilst they themselves have to live in the midst of an atmosphere of evil influences, such as those who live in Christian countries know little of.
It is satisfactory and significant to note that one of the most pronounced of the agitators in favour of teaching Christianity through Hinduism has become one of the most determined and persuasive preachers of pure Christianity, with a corresponding increase of far-reaching and productive influence.
The following definitions of what is Hinduism from certain leading and representative Hindus will be of interest as showing that what has been said of its nebulous nature is not an exaggeration. The editor of an Indian paper called the Leader, asked the following question:—"What are the beliefs and practices indispensable in one professing the Hindu faith, as distinguished from what may be called non-essentials, which it is left to one's option to believe and to adopt?"
Some of the answers were quoted in the Delhi Mission News, vol. iv., p. 108, from which the following extracts are taken. They are slightly abridged, but the original sense has been carefully preserved.
Sir Guru Das Banerjee, an orthodox Hindu of Bengal, of great ability and eminence, says:—"Owing to the highly tolerant character of Hinduism and to the great diversity of opinion on the point, it is not easy to answer the question with any great degree of definiteness. I think that the beliefs that are generally considered indispensable in a Hindu are: Belief in God, in a future state, and in the authority of the Vedas. The practices that are generally considered indispensable are: The rules prohibiting marriage in a different caste; forbidding dining with a person of an inferior caste; and the rule relating to forbidden food, especially beef. But courts of justice have gone much further, and held dissenting sects which have sprung out of the Hindu community, such as the Sikhs, to be Hindus, although they do not believe in the authority of the Vedas and do not observe any distinction of caste. And Hindu society now practically admits within its pale all persons who are Hindu by birth, whatever their beliefs and practices may be, provided they have not openly abjured Hinduism or married outside of Hindu society."
Mr Satyendra Nath Tagore, another Bengali Hindu, whose family is among the most distinguished in India, writes:—"There are no dogmas in Hinduism. You may believe in any doctrine you choose, even in atheism, without ceasing to be a Hindu. You, as a Hindu, must in theory accept the Vedas as the revealed religion, but you may put your own interpretation on the Vedic texts. This leaves a loophole for you to escape from the thraldom of dogmatism. It is the adherence to certain practices—rites and ceremonies—that Hinduism imperatively demands. Chief of these is the system of caste as at present constituted, the slightest deviation from which cuts one off from the community. In determining the question proposed, the text is, What is it that entails excommunication of a Hindu? Surely not any specific article of belief, but a deviation from established usages and customs—such, for instance, as the remarriage of widows, etc. Again, non-observance of the prevailing modes of worship, non-observance of idol worship, especially on ceremonial occasions, might entail serious consequences. It is true that certain articles of belief obtain among the large body of Hindus, but they are by no means universal or essential to Hinduism. You may renounce the belief, provided you conform to the ceremony which is the outcome of such belief. For instance, it will not do to discountenance the practice of making funeral offerings to deceased ancestors, although you have no faith in the immortality of the soul."
Mr P. T. Srinivas Iyengar is principal of a college in Vizagapatam. He writes:—"The evolution of religion in India has not provided the Hindus with any belief or practice common to all who now go by that name. The pre-Aryan tribes had their own religious beliefs and practices, on which were superimposed those of the Aryans. The Vedic age, the post-Vedic times, the Buddhist age, and the age of the Paranas, have each contributed innumerable ideas and customs. The religion of each one of us contains relics of all these strata, but not one of these can be called essential to the Hindu religion, because every belief or practice that is considered absolutely necessary by Hindus of one corner of India is unknown or ignored by some other corner. It is true that the various schools of Hindu philosophy agree in regarding a few fundamental ideas as axiomatic, but philosophy is not religion. The Mohammedans are one because they have a common religion and a common law. The Christians are one, because at least one point of faith is common. But the Hindus have neither faith, nor practice, nor law to distinguish them from others. I should therefore define a Hindu to be one born in India, whose parents so far as people can remember were not foreigners, or did not profess a foreign religion like Mohammedanism or Christianity, and who himself has not embraced such religions."
The last answer, which reads the vaguest of any, is from Mr T. Sadasivier, who is a Sessions Judge of Ganjam. He writes as follows:—"One professing the Hindu faith has only to have the following belief, namely, that the four Vedas contain moral and spiritual truth, which are not less valid than any other spoken or written words. He might believe in other spoken or written words (like the Bhagavad-gita) as of equal authority with the Vedas, but he ought not, if he is a Hindu, to believe such to be superior, so far as moral and religious truth is concerned. Out-castes are Hindus so long as they believe the Vedas to contain the highest moral and religious truths. As regards practices, a Hindu ought to follow those he believes to be in conformity with and not opposed to, the Vedas. He can follow his own conscience and desires in ordinary matters, so long as he believes that they are not opposed to the Vedas. Human nature being liable to sin, even if he contravenes the practices believed by him to be Vedic, if he admits he ought to follow only practices enjoined by the Vedas, he is a Hindu, even if he cannot study and read the Vedas. If he believes that the Vedas inculcate certain practices for him and that he ought to follow them, he is and remains a Hindu."
Hospitality limited by caste rules. Feasts. The Hindu's guest-house. Laws of hospitality; observed by Indian Christians; their generosity to each other. Indian respect for the mother; retained through life; observed by Indian Christians. Swithun's mother. Indian affection shallow, except for the mother.
The peoples of the East are proverbial for their hospitality, and certainly Indians in all parts of their country are true to this excellent tradition, although the caste system of Hindus, which in so many ways hinders their good purposes from producing their legitimate result, restricts their hospitable efforts, within their own dwelling, to the sometimes narrow limits of their own particular caste. Invitations to members of castes above their own would not be accepted. And if, in some cases, a broad-minded Hindu would be not unwilling to invite to dinner a friend belonging to a caste lower than his own, his good intentions would be almost certainly checkmated by the ladies of his household, who would refuse to cook for the intruder.
Rich men give feasts out of doors to a variety of people, who sit in groups according to their caste. Even lepers and beggars are not unfrequently fed in this fashion on a large scale by those who are wealthy. Such feasts, however, do not come exactly under the laws of hospitality, because they are held according to the fancy of the giver. It is practically a matter of obligation to feast people bountifully in connection with marriages and deaths and some other ceremonies.
Any actual breach of the Indian code of hospitality is regarded as a serious lapse, and even within the limits of the family and caste, the burden of hospitality can become a very heavy one. A well-to-do Hindu in Poona city built a new three-storied house in a corner of his large compound. As he had already got a house of apparently ample dimensions, I asked him what was the object of this new one. He said that it was for his guests; and he then proceeded to give me a good deal of information concerning Hindu customs connected with hospitality.
He said that guests who come to stay usually arrive without invitation, or previous notice. They are often attended by wife and children and other relations, and remain for an indefinite time. A visit of even two or three months' duration is quite usual. I asked if it was not possible to hint that it was time that the visit came to a close. But he said that to do so would be considered very rude, and a great breach of hospitality, and that it was never done. People who are not well off, often pay these long visits for the sake of the free rations; and, on account of their poverty, it is impossible to pay them back in their own coin by going to stay a corresponding time with them.
Indian Christians retain strongly these national ideas concerning the laws of hospitality, and are generous in their entertainment of each other, even although it means that their monthly supply of grain will run short, and that they will be hard put to it, and have to live on short commons during the last days of the month. People holiday-making, or out of work, will forage about in search of free meals, and will drop in here and there just about dinner time without much thought as to whether their company is welcome or not. Even the poorest persons will cheerfully produce all that they have got in order to feed these chance comers, with whom perhaps they have only a slight acquaintance. Christians are also generous with their money in helping other Christians who are in difficulties, or out of work. Some who may have got good appointments are, nevertheless, often kept poor by their efforts to help relations who, on their part, seem to have no delicacy about making urgent demands for assistance. Even mothers will prey without compunction on married children who can ill afford to render help.
But the petition of the mother is never rejected. In Hindu family life the respect and affection which the son has for his mother is a most touching and beautiful characteristic, which only intensifies the older he grows. The Indian boy is often wilful and disobedient and rude to his mother, but he makes up for this by his dutiful conduct when he grows to manhood. It is almost comical to find Hindus of mature years referring everything to their mother, and even in small matters of daily life saying that they must ask their mother before they can do this or that. This filial conduct does not arise from fear of the maternal wrath, but because of the son's deep respect for his mother as such.
Many a Hindu has said to me, when discussing the possibility of acceptance of Christianity, "It would grieve my mother, and I cannot do that." When conversions have taken place, the final and most bitter struggle has nearly always been when the lamentations and entreaties of the mother had to be faced, and some men have not been able to stand this pressure, and have turned back on that ground alone. The tears of the wife are of small account compared with the distress of the mother.
It must be added that the Hindu mother appears to accept the considerate regard of her sons very much as a matter of course, and that if she looks upon them with equal affection, her manner of displaying it is, at any rate, different from the English ideal.
Happily Christian boys and men retain much of the same reverential feeling concerning their mother. The Indian equivalent of the English parish clerk at the village church at Yerandawana was about to be married in Bombay, where his bride resided, 120 miles away. His mother was a curious, cross-grained old woman, not yet a Christian. As he had not much money, I suggested that there was no need to take his mother to this distant city for the wedding, but that she could be ready to greet the bride at their new home in the village when they returned.
But Swithun assured me that it was absolutely essential that his mother should go with him, and that if he was married without taking care to secure her presence, he would be for ever branded as an undutiful son. She was not at all grateful for his kind consideration, and made herself very disagreeable all through the wedding-day, but the guests treated her with a good deal of respect and regard solely on the score of her being the bride-groom's mother, and on that account a person to be honoured.
Indian affection is quite real as far as it goes, but it does not go very deep, so that it does not long outlive the removal of the object of regard, either through death or any other cause. Nor will Indian affection bear much strain. Petty complications in family life, trivial misunderstandings between friends of long standing, or amongst Christians some little hitch with the authorities of a mission, will sometimes result in life-long separations or bitter animosity between those who, for the time being, were objects of real, but shallow, affection. But the Indian puts up with anything rather than quarrel with his mother, and her memory remains fresh and green long after other departed relations and friends have been lost in oblivion.
THE INDIAN VIEW OF NATURE AND ARCHITECTURE
Indians oblivious to scenery. The beauties of Nature. Results of learning drawing. Hindus' offerings of flowers; their garlands. Pictures of flowers. The new village church attracts; impressed by its interior; schoolboys visit it. Visitors from the Hindu college. A party from the Widows' Home. Brahmin ladies admire the embroidery. The "religious bath."
Almost all Indians are apparently oblivious to beautiful scenery. You rarely see them looking at a gorgeous sunset, or hear them speak about it. You will seldom hear them make any reference to the beauty or otherwise of their surroundings. As they travel along the road you will not see them looking round about them. Some passengers gaze listlessly out of the windows of the train, but to all appearance without much interest, except at stations where there is a crowd on the platform. Even the buildings or shop windows of a city only attract a languid amount of attention; but a street quarrel, or a war of words between two excited females, will soon draw a large crowd.
The brightness of the moon and the glory of the stars, astonishingly brilliant as they are when seen through the clear Indian atmosphere, does not seem to excite admiration, in spite of the divine attributes which Hindus ascribe to such objects. Even ordinary secular education does not do much to stimulate appreciation of the beauties in Nature. Christianity does something in this direction by extending the range of mental vision to the possibilities of the heavenly country, and the knowledge of God as the Creator excites a measure of interest in the objects of His creation. But even amongst Indian Christians any keen perception of the beauty of scenery by land or on the sea-coast is defective.
Drawing is a subject which is now extensively taught in schools in India, and it is a branch of education which is helping to train the Indian mind to observe and appreciate form and colour. At one time the many lads who came to the Mission-house for old Christmas cards scornfully rejected even the most beautiful pictures of flowers as being of no worth. Pictures of birds, or beasts, or people they sought for eagerly, because such objects came within their range of appreciation, but the beauty of a flower as such they did not understand.
Loose flowers without stalk or leaves are offered in temples, or they are strung on a thread and hung on the god like a necklace. But the value of the offering is in the scent of the flower, and not in the beauty of its colour or form. The Yerandawana village children often come to the church with their cap or pocket filled with flowers plucked in this fashion, which they present as an offering. We have a large brass bowl in which we receive such gifts, which is then placed on the altar, with the prayer that those who have thus shown their goodwill may be led on to give their own hearts to God.
The elaborate garlands which are used so largely as a complimentary gift to those whom it is thought desirable to honour are also valued for their scent rather than for any intrinsic beauty which they may possess. If the flowers happen to be defective in this respect the defect is corrected by the addition amongst their petals of powerfully smelling attar of roses. So little is the natural beauty of the flower recognised that in the more elaborate garlands small round looking-glasses in tawdry brass frames are strung at intervals, producing a painful incongruity.
But of late years quite a number of the more advanced students have called at the Mission-house expressly seeking pictures of flowers as drawing studies, and their discriminating remarks, and their admiration of pictures of special beauty, and the excellence of some of their own efforts in the production of drawings of natural objects, shows that at any rate this department of education is bringing about the desired results.
When the church at Yerandawana was building, the first indication that its unusual design commended itself to the Indian mind was that passers-by began to stop and look at it. You need to be familiar with the Indian's state of oblivion concerning his surroundings, already referred to, in order to understand the force of this. To pause and gaze at a big building in process of erection is, with most people, a natural and obvious thing to do; especially if time is of no object and the design of the building a novelty. But not so the Indian. To gradually slacken his pace, to turn and look, to pause and discuss, was an indication that new and unwonted impressions were being made on the Indian mind. The effect increased as the building approached completion. Few people passed without regarding it attentively. Many looked back to take another view before they had got out of sight. And although, to the villagers at any rate, the church is now a familiar object, many of them still seem to find a pleasure in looking up at it as they go by.
Its interior never fails to impress Hindus of whatever age or station, and it has become a valuable agent in the work of pioneer evangelisation. People who enter the church in an easygoing way are impelled to reverence and subdued tones at the sight of its domes, and the many arches in the massive walls, combined with its extreme simplicity. Controversial Hindus drop their controversy, and find themselves uttering expressions of surprised pleasure. Young children are so attracted by the church that they ask to visit it again and again. Often when a Hindu boy comes and asks for pictures for the first time, some of the old stagers will suggest that he must see the church, and they are eager to display their knowledge of our religious ways by explaining to him the meaning of what he finds there.
The English stories which are given as text-books in the upper classes of Indian schools sometimes present great difficulties to the Hindu masters, who have to explain the meaning of words and phrases. Miss Yonge's Little Duke was being read in some of the Poona City High Schools one year. Even the Christian and surname of the author, pronounced with exact reference to the spelling, produced such a mysterious result that it was some time before I recognised the real name buried up in strange sounds. Miss Yonge's references to churches were often particularly perplexing, and a boy asking what was meant by "the chancel," his master wisely advised his pupil to pay a visit to a Christian church and see for himself. Quite a number of young students at this period came and asked to be shown over the church, and to have its various parts explained to them. Some of the questions were not easy to answer, considering that the questioners were Hindus. What is meant by "Holy Communion?" asked one of these young men. And later on another, having had the font explained to him, said, "And how about the ceremony of bread and wine?"
Even a little party of seven or eight female students from a Hindu college, escorted by the one Christian girl in the establishment, came to see the church. Some of them were carefully dressed with due regard to Hindu fashion, but one or two were advanced women of the modern school, who had introduced several innovations, especially as regards a freer way of arranging the hair. There was something almost pathetic in their interest in what they saw, because the hope of their ever being otherwise than outsiders was, to say the least of it, very distant. It was, however, a distinct mark of progress that the Christian girl who brought them was not only tolerated as a boarder in the college amongst high-caste girls, but she was evidently popular and looked up to.
About a dozen Hindu widows came over one morning to see the church from their home in the next village. They displayed a curious combination of curiosity, apprehension, and interest. One oldish widow literally fled to the other side of the church when she suddenly realised that I was standing behind her. The other women were a good deal amused at her alarm. It was evident that everything that they saw was an enigma to them. Naturally Hindu visitors constantly ask, "Where is the God?" and they are a good deal astonished to find that there is no visible God. The widows were naturally interested in the needlework of the altar cloths and hangings, and asked several questions about it and admired it. Like the lady visitors from the Hindu college, they showed some diversity of taste and opinion in their dress and ornaments and arrangement of hair.
When plague was bad in Poona City many of the well-to-do people left their homes and camped round about Yerandawana. In the evening, when Brahmin ladies were taking a walk with their children, or returning from their daily visit to the Hindu temple in the village, a party of them would now and then come into the church and study it at leisure with great interest. The beautiful figure of the Crucifixion, with Our Lady and St John, above the high altar, worked in silk and gold, they looked at and discussed with much appreciation of the skilled needlework and the richness of the materials. How far the picture itself appealed to them it was difficult to say. Finally, they would gather round the great font, sometimes with caution till they saw that there was no water in it, and listened respectfully to the description of its use.
"Yes, I see, it is for a religious bath," said one of them; and we wondered how long it might be before some of these good women would again gather round the font to receive their own baptism.
INDIAN EMPLOYERS OF LABOUR
Studies of Indian character. Workpeople rude to their employers. Disobedience of female workers. The contractor's pay-day. The labourers cheated. The caretaker of the wood-store; the risk of fire; the caretaker's fidelity; his cheerful poverty; the tyranny of clothes; his prayers. The wood-cutters defrauded.
While the village church was in process of building, many valuable opportunities occurred for getting insight into Indian character. Various grades of men were employed, from the rough coolies who dug the foundations, to the skilled decorator who gilded the cross on the top of the tower. The prosperous Hindu contractor with his clerks and overseers were constantly on the spot, and vendors of wood and stone and other materials were frequently in the compound making bargains about fresh supplies.
One noticeable feature amongst the working people was their rude manner towards their employers. An English master would not have put up with it for an hour, but it did not disturb the Indian contractor in the least, and it was clearly only the normal state of things. Men and women of all grades joked with their employers, laughed at them, made game of them, and when angry abused them to their heart's content. They on their part either took no notice, or laughed, or abused them in return. Their masters did not resent even deliberate disobedience. An Englishman generally expects to be obeyed at once, and hesitation or delay on the part of the subject is looked upon as a serious offence. But it is not customary for any Indian to obey an order on the instant. You must always give him a little time.
The contractor's son, who acted as ganger or overseer, would find a bricklayer's assistant, male or female, sitting in the shade doing nothing. Women are employed largely as day-labourers, and more often than not it was the woman who was the slowest to obey. The overseer would tell her peremptorily to get up and go to work. The woman would pretend not to hear him. The command would be repeated in louder tones. The woman would continue to wear an air of supreme indifference, and would remain sitting. Rougher words, accompanied by threats, would at last produce the response, "All right! I am coming," but without any movement on the part of the woman. She would at length leisurely resume work. The contractor appeared to be content with this scant measure of obedience and not to expect more.
But when it came to wages day he was able to pay off old scores, but not in coin of the realm. Almost everybody in India is paid monthly. When a person says, "My pay is fifteen rupees," he means that this is what he gets each month. But the contractor settled accounts when he felt inclined, and at irregular intervals. Pay-day was a very stormy one. Its advent was notified by the arrival of the money-box, much resembling the old-fashioned wooden desk of the last century. The contractor sat on the ground on a bit of old carpet, under the shade of a grass-mat, with the box before him. The process of paying often went on for some hours, because it was accompanied by much fierce arguing and angry debate. The contractor, though taking large contracts, could neither read nor write. Yet he was said to have his complicated accounts clearly registered in his own mind. He occasionally made a few mystic symbols to assist his memory, which no one understood except himself. One of his sons, who was better educated than he was, kept a record of what the labourers did, and it was from this record that their pay was calculated.
A slight familiarity with the nature of Hindu business transactions would lead to the conviction that the vehement protestations of many of the labourers concerning the injustice of this record were well founded. The contractor was bent on paying no more than he was absolutely obliged. Considerations concerning justice, which still have some influence even amongst indifferent Christians, would not have entered his mind at all. His only anxiety would have been lest his men should be exasperated to the point of leaving him. Hence the workmen probably generally came out worst in the conflict because they had no other means of redress, and labour is in most places abundant in India, and vacant posts are quickly filled. The contractor, on pay-day at least, was able to show his contempt for the underlings who were so often rude to him, by the way in which he gave them their money. Tossing it to them from a distance, they had to gather it up as best they could out of the dust into which he threw it.
It is sometimes suggested that the want of truth and honesty in business affairs amongst Hindus has been exaggerated. But it would be scarcely possible to exaggerate the extent of what is almost universal. If you were to ask one of themselves whether he knew of any Hindu who could be really trusted in any matter involving money, he would at once reply that he did not know of anybody. The day-labourer in particular, being a defenceless mortal, rarely gets from anybody the full sum to which he is entitled. If he is paid by the day, bearing this in mind, he retaliates by doing as little work as possible. Hence labourers are almost always paid by the job.
A Hindu wood-merchant took a contract for clearing a large tract of forest land some miles beyond the Yerandawana settlement. The quantity of wood was so great that there was no room for it in his yard in Poona City, and so he rented a strip of land immediately opposite the Mission bungalow as a temporary wood-store. This vast amount of dry timber became a matter of some anxiety, because if it had caught fire it would have roasted us out of church and home. Nor was this fear altogether unfounded. An old man was appointed caretaker, and lived in a frail hut in the midst of the wood. He cooked his dinner daily with the help of a wild-looking, unclothed little daughter who shared his humble home. They generally kindled their fire inside the hut, which was made of most inflammable materials, and to judge by the clouds of smoke which poured out through the coarse thatch at cooking time, the operations were on rather a large scale. He also made a large bonfire of refuse bits of wood outside his hut on cold nights, and there he and a few friends would sit and toast themselves till a late hour.
This man was supposed to be paid by the month, but he told me that his money was always doled out to him in small sums at irregular intervals, and that he was never paid up to date. This is a common custom to secure continuity of service. It would not matter if the balance due was really given at the conclusion of the compact. But this is rarely, if ever, done.
The old man watched the wood with exemplary fidelity for two years, never absent from his post night or day, except for the briefest possible visit to the bazaar at long intervals, to buy the few necessities of his simple life. He then fell ill, and decided to give up his job and return to his native village. But his employer only gave him a portion of the final balance, on the plea that he must have neglected his duty when he was unwell. He asked me to write a certificate to the effect that he had stuck to his post all the time, which I gladly did, but it was not likely to help his cause with his heathen master.
This cheerful old man was an example of how happiness does not depend on comfortable surroundings. The hut, which was of his own manufacture, was of the most miserable description. Inside there was literally only just space enough for himself and his little girl to creep in and lie down. In the monsoon it was reduced to a pitiable condition, the rain coming through like a sieve. The floor having become mud, the old man was at last obliged to invest in a native bedstead, which only costs about 8d. Having secured this luxury he was quite content, and when he looked across at the Mission bungalow, which, though homely enough, was a palace compared to his hut, I do not suppose that he ever felt any wish to exchange residences.
The only thing that he could not bear was the tyranny of clothes, and he wore even less than is usual in India. His chief joy was to sit and bake in the morning sun, and to be coiled up in the shade during the hottest part of the day. Now and then he came over and sat in one of our verandahs for a little while, and he would wander into church and gaze round with admiration. He was always smiling, or laughing, or talking, or working, or sleeping. Though quite ignorant, he was a devout Hindu according to his lights. It was pathetic to hear him in his hut calling loudly on his gods, just about the time we went to Compline. He always repeated the names of about half a dozen gods, calling on each about twelve times or more in succession, in a rapid but clear voice which could be distinctly heard in the bungalow. I do not think that he ever missed his evening exercise. We tried to teach him something of Christianity; but beyond sharing in the general appreciation of the fabric of the church, and feeling that Christians made good neighbours, I do not suppose that he took anything in. Pictures he did not understand, or when we showed them to him, laughed merrily, thinking that we meant it for a joke.
After the wood had lain there for a long time, but before the old man retired, men were sent to cut it up for firewood. Half a dozen men worked hard for two or three weeks, and sawed and split quite a mountain of logs. Their day's work they measured in a primitive sort of balance, and the tally was checked by the old caretaker. Once or twice an agent from the wood-merchant came on the scene, and a war of words always ensued on the subject of methods of weighing, and the prospective payment of results. This was preparing the way for the final scene when the men began to clamour for their money. The agent declared that the wood had not been correctly weighed and that it must be measured afresh, a process which would have taken some days. Meanwhile he said he would give them a portion of what was due, and the balance must stand over. The men on receiving their docked pay indignantly gathered up their tools and declared that they would return to their native village, which they did. The agent had no doubt counted on this final result all the time, and was able to report to his master how well he had served his interests.
The wood had no permanent guardian after the old man left. Other men came from time to time, worked for a day or two, cut up a certain amount of wood, and then threw up the job before they had been paid anything at all, and thus the wood-merchant got a good deal of work done for nothing. These are the sort of conditions under which nearly all the poorer class of day-labourers in India have to labour.
THE INDIAN POSTAL SERVICE
The post-runners; their fidelity. The village post. Letters to rustics few. Popularity of post cards. Indian train-sorters. Dishonesty. Insurance. Postal privileges. Use of the telegraph; its abuse; absurd instance of this. The postman a privileged visitor.
The excellence of the postal service in India is surprising considering the difficult conditions under which it is worked. The men engaged in the collection and delivery of letters are perhaps more of a success than those who are employed within the post offices. These latter have more temptations to dishonesty.
The lowest grade of all in the service is proverbially the most dependable. These are the "post-runners," who are illiterate men who collect letters but cannot deliver them, because they cannot read the addresses. They often have very long beats in remote country districts, where sometimes there is risk both from robbers and wild beasts. The runner may be recognised by a sort of javelin which he carries, presumably for his protection; and to this are attached some jingling bits of iron or small bells, so that after dark you can detect the post-runner by this sound. More often than not his long journey extends into the night. Considering the lonely tracks through which his road frequently leads, it is to the credit of the inhabitants of the country that he is not often robbed. It is also to his own credit that he is said to run any risk rather than fail to deliver his mail-bag at its destination. His appearance, as he ambles along in shabby attire with his letter-bag over his shoulder, is not calculated to inspire confidence. But the Yerandawana letters are picked up in the evening by one of these primitive post-runners, and no instance is on record of any letter failing to reach its destination.
Post offices are at present only to be found in a few of the more important villages. The post-master is generally the Government schoolmaster, who is grateful for any addition to his small income. In thousands of Indian villages letters are only delivered two or three times a week, or even less, and they have no post-box. People send their letter to the post when anybody happens to be going to the nearest town.
When the Mission first settled in Yerandawana there was no collection of letters at all. The English mail letters, which reached Bombay on Friday, sometimes did not get to Yerandawana till the following Wednesday. But the postal authorities readily grant facilities as soon as there is a reasonable demand for them, and there is now a daily delivery; also a morning and evening collection from a post-box hung in the verandah of the Mission roadside dispensary.
Villagers at present make so little use of the postal service that greater facilities than they have already got are not yet required. Few rustics can write with sufficient ease to enable them to write a letter, and a considerable proportion of the few letters which come to our villagers are soon brought on to the Mission-house, or to the schoolmaster, because the recipients cannot read them for themselves.
Almost all Indian correspondence is carried on by means of post cards. It is the only country, perhaps, in which the post card may be said to be a real success. In India it exactly supplied a want. The card is cheap (it only costs 1/4d.), and it is complete in itself. Stamps and envelopes have to be wetted. The gum may have been made of the hoofs or bones of the cow, and the thought of possible defilement of caste comes in. The post card has no drawback. Its publicity, which makes English people dislike it, is not considered a disadvantage by the Indian. He reads other people's letters as a matter of course, and expects other people to read his. I have often seen a postman seated by the street side sorting out his post cards, surrounded by an interested little crowd. He and they are reading as many of the post cards as there is time for, and no one appears conscious of irregularity in the proceeding.
A post-office inspector who was travelling in the train with me told me that they have great difficulty in checking robberies committed by the Indian train-sorters, because effective supervision is impossible. In the interval between station and station, which in some of the mail trains is often an hour or two, the sorters know that they are secure from interruption. They get skilled in detecting by the feel the presence of a bank-note within an envelope. In a country where paper currency is largely in vogue people often send money by post in the form of notes in unregistered letters, trusting to the thin note not being observed.
Many such notes get stolen by the train-sorters. Even sending half notes is not always a security, if the remitter does not take the precaution of waiting to hear of the safe arrival of the first half. The dishonest sorter having secured the first half, and having observed the post-mark and hand-writing, will be on the look-out for the other half, which he knows is likely to come along the same route in a day or so. The only chance of getting hold of the thief is by setting a trap for him in the shape of a marked note or coin. But the Indian thief often suspects and avoids the trap. Inspectors board the train at unexpected stations, and travel for a while with the sorters, and look into their affairs; but the sorters are generally ready for them, and no sign of irregularity is visible. Nevertheless a certain percentage of thefts are brought to light, and the delinquents sent to prison. Insurance of articles sent by post is a great safeguard, as is shown by the fact that in one year recently the total insured value of articles posted amounted to nearly L17,000,000, whereas the sum paid in compensation was only about L500.
There are postal privileges in India such as England knows nothing of. Not only is there the 1/4d. post card, but there is an inland 1/2d. postage, for letters not exceeding 1/2 oz. in weight. The value of a money order is brought in cash by the postman and paid into your hand, and the receipt that you sign is returned by the post office to the sender, and there is no possibility of your being defrauded, because, if the money goes wrong on its way to you, the post office is responsible.
Another great convenience is what is commonly spoken of as V.P.P.—that is to say, the "value payable parcel" system. If you order something from a shop to be sent by post, the postman collects the value of the parcel before he hands it over, and the post office transmits the money to the sender. If the person to whom the package is sent refuses to pay, or if he cannot be found, the package goes back to the sender. If the goods are heavy and are forwarded by train, the railway invoice is sent by post, but it is not handed over by the postman until he has received the value of the goods. An immense amount of trouble and correspondence is saved by this system, and it is a great security to shopkeepers in a country where distances are great, and many customers unknown, or migratory, or living in out-of-the-way places.
The telegraph has become rather popular amongst Indians, and they are inclined to use it on trivial occasions. As telegrams have to be transmitted in English, I am familiar with the nature of those sent to rustic Indians, because those that come to Yerandawana always find their way to the Mission bungalow to be interpreted. Amongst the more well-to-do Indians a death is now almost always announced by telegraph. It is a new and impressive way of showing respect to the deceased, and makes it appear that he was in his lifetime an important person. In cases of sickness telegrams are despatched here and there to relations, summoning them urgently and at once, before there has been time to ascertain whether the sickness is really serious or not. Relations hurry off from long distances at great expense (how they get the money is in some cases a mystery), and arrive perhaps to find the sick person walking about. Christians under similar circumstances act with just as much hasty precipitation as other Indians.
A most absurd instance of the abuse of the use of the telegraph happened to one of our Christian women. She got a telegram to the effect that her son was going to be hanged on the following Thursday, and that she must come at once. The woman brought the telegram to the Mission-house in the utmost consternation and distress. The son being rather a "ne'er-do-weel," his having got into some scrape was not improbable; but that he should have committed murder, and been tried and sentenced without anybody hearing of it seemed impossible. A telegram was sent to the governor of the gaol where the lad was supposed to be. A reply was promptly returned saying that there was no prisoner of that name in the gaol. The whole thing proved to be an absurd attempt on the part of the lad himself to get his mother to come to the place where he was living. To have merely telegraphed that he was ill might not have had the desired effect, but the appalling contents of the false telegram he thought were bound to be effective. The inevitable distress of his mother he does not appear to have taken into account at all.
Telegrams are also used as a means of putting on the screw in case of a debt, or perhaps as a means of extorting money falsely. "Send Rs. 20 at once"—"Bring Rs. 5 without fail to-morrow"—such have been some of the village telegrams. The contents of a telegram soon become public property, because a small crowd always accompanies its recipient when he comes to have it read. They listen eagerly to its contents, discuss it at length, and retail it to all absentees.
The Indian postman knows that he is a privileged and generally welcome visitor, especially when he is the bearer of the bulky weekly mail from England. He steps into the verandah, or in at any of the many wide-open doors of the bungalow, with a confidence and with a consciousness that there is no need to ask permission, such as other Indian visitors do not always feel.
INDIANS AND ENGLISH CUSTOMS
Spread of English customs inevitable. No national dress. Christians and English dress. Increased refinement means increased expense; instances of this. Defects in the Indian style of dress. Beauty of the turban. Models in the Indian Institute. The transformed policeman.
"But why are they in English clothes? Why do they not wear their Indian dress?" So said somebody when looking at a photograph of some of the Christian lads who are working in the Mission stables.
The criticism is sometimes heard that missionaries are largely responsible for the introduction of European dress and customs into foreign countries. The charge is only partially true; in many cases it is the restraining influence of the missionary which has done something to check the inevitable growth of foreign customs, even at the cost of provoking some discontent amongst the members of his flock.
The real truth of the matter is that the spread of these customs is a tide that cannot be stayed, and the most that can be hoped for is to help to regulate it, so that things obviously out of place should not creep in. As the knowledge of English spreads, the acquisition of English ways gradually follows. This naturally is specially the case amongst Christians, because so many of them are living in close touch with English people.
Indian Christians are sometimes criticised and laughed at for their frequent adoption of European dress, which often involves the adjuncts of collars, ties, studs, shoes, and socks. But in so doing they are not discarding a national dress, because India does not possess one. Dress in India denotes religion or occupation, not country. The ample linen cloth which the Hindu folds around his waist and therewith clothes his legs, denotes that he is a Hindu. For that reason many Christians do not care to retain it. The Mohammedans have their own special garb, which of course Christians could not adopt. The English being a Christian race, it has inevitably followed that their style of dress should in India become associated with the idea of Christianity, and few people except Christians wear it, except that coats of English cut are now common amongst all classes of Indians.
It is true that some missionaries who are anxious to retain Eastern customs as far as possible are nevertheless averse to the retention of native costume, because experience has taught them that it has serious disadvantages, and that it is wholesome for a Christian to be marked as such wherever he goes by what he wears. Added to which, it is a well-known fact that an Indian lad, neatly clad in English style with all those adjuncts for which he is criticised, stands a much better chance of getting work, and at a higher rate of pay, than would be the case if he made his application dressed with equal neatness, but in native garments. His English dress also secures him many little concessions and courtesies, especially when travelling, which he would not otherwise get.
Christianity rightly brings in its train aspirations for some of the refinements of civilisation, and that these involve an increase of expenditure is inevitable. Indian Christians are sometimes reproached for their inability to live on the small sum on which a Hindu of the same station manages to exist. No doubt some, partly from inexperience, have followed Western ways to a foolish extent. But the fact remains that a good Christian has unavoidably more expenses than those of the average working Hindu. He cannot spend his evenings dozing in the dark, therefore he must have a lamp, with its usual adjuncts. He has been taught to read, and needs a few books. He now and then writes a letter. He reads his Bible with his family, and says some prayers before they go to bed. His wife can sew and mend her children's clothes, and the evening hours with the lamp are of value to her. He no longer cares to go about in the scant clothing which satisfies a Hindu. He would not wish his little children to run about naked, like those of his Hindu neighbours. He must have clean clothes for Sunday, and though he can do a little rough washing on his own account, he needs the skill of the dhobie for some of his wife's garments and his white Sunday suit. He is expected to contribute liberally towards church expenses; and where the number of Christians in a place is few, this burden falls rather heavily on each. Occasionally he needs a new prayer book or hymn book. He would like to take in a weekly paper. He has begun to understand a little what is meant by home life, and so he is tempted to buy pictures and other ornaments to make his house look pleasant. Without a clock he cannot make much progress in the practice of punctuality, and he buys one in order that he may get to church at the proper time. Greater regard for cleanliness means soap and towels. He can no longer have a share in the periodical Hindu feasts when poor people, at any rate once in a way, get a full belly. On the contrary, the traditional spirit of hospitality, especially at the time of great festivals, is often a serious drain on the resources of many Christians, who, like most Indians, are generally generous beyond their means to all comers. The Indian Christian also desires to have his children educated, and though he gets a good deal of help from mission schools he does so less than formerly, and he is often told (and no doubt rightly) that if he wishes education for his children he must pay for it like other people.
It would probably be considered almost a heresy even to suggest that the various styles of dress worn by Indian men are not really more picturesque than many other styles. A street in an Eastern city, with its throng of quaintly dressed people, is much more fascinating in appearance than the sombre hues of an average London crowd in the winter time. The rich colours and the sparkling jewels of an assembly of Indian nobility attract the eye by their brilliance. But if you separate the individuals who make up the crowd, and take their costume into individual consideration, you are conscious of defects. The glittering array of an Indian chief appears more adapted to feminine needs than those of a king or noble. The dhota, which takes the place of trousers amongst Hindus, is not really a particularly comely garment, and its loose folds are not at all convenient for working men, especially masons and carpenters, who have to climb about on scaffolds.
The dresses of Indian women in general may safely be accepted as being more picturesque and more convenient than the styles of female costume prevalent in Europe. And the turban for the men, with its variety of shape and colour, and its great practical utility as a protection from the rays of the tropical sun, is without doubt the most artistic covering for the head that the world produces. It is a sad pity that the turban is being slowly but steadily ousted by the adoption of a stupid little cloth cap, as ugly as it is useless.
How hopeless it would be to attempt to decide which is the national dress out of any of those now worn in India, might be realised even in England by a visit to a museum, such as the Indian Institute in Oxford. There is there a most interesting collection of clay figures, admirably modelled, and coloured and draped. They represent many of the various types and dresses to be found in the country. These figures are made in Poona City, and are absolutely correct. They do not by any means include all the varieties of costume to be seen in India. Nevertheless, if you were to mix them all up together, the result would very fairly represent the motley throng which you might see in the more crowded parts of Bombay City, to which place, as a great sea-port, people come from all parts of India. If you were to select a person out of the throng as wearing a dress suitable for Christians to adopt, you would be told that that particular costume denoted either the man's religion or his occupation, or both, and for anyone else to wear it, except those of the same class as himself, would create a false impression as to the wearer's identity. If you were to suggest that the costume selected might be adopted as the national dress for India, you would be assured that no one would consent to wear it except the little group of people whose distinctive garb it is.
How much dress has to do with the appearance of an Indian was brought home to me one day, when a magnificent-looking policeman entered the carriage in which I was sitting, at a station near Bombay. He had on a tall blue turban, dark blue tunic with leathern belt, loose knickerbockers, and putties. His clothes were put on with extreme neatness; they were as spotless as those of a London policeman, and the brass numbers and letters polished to the highest degree. I was astonished to see this magnificent fellow rapidly divest himself of all his clothing—turban, tunic, knickerbockers, putties—there would have been nothing left, except that a Hindu wears beneath his uniform the meagre garments which suffice for everyday life, so that when he had got rid of everything which appertained to him as a policeman he was still fit to go into Indian society. The ordinary garments of an Indian are scanty, but the double set of clothing might be thought rather oppressive in the tropics. But the Indian likes to be warmly clad at any time of the year. Boys of the Mission will wear comforters and warm coats well into the hot season if allowed to do so.
The effect of the removal of the policeman's uniform was startling. He was evidently going off duty, because he handed all his discarded belongings to a friend on the platform, and he was only using my carriage as a dressing-room. The whole process of transformation only took about two minutes, and he then walked off in the opposite direction. But no one could have supposed that there was any identity between the shabby Hindu, with shaved head and little pigtail and fluttering dhota, and that fine-looking fellow who first entered the carriage.
On the railway. The unpunctual neighbour. Indians' opinions concerning punctuality. Christianity only a partial cure. Servants and punctuality. Indians' unpunctuality at meals. Parable of the Marriage Feast. Patient waiting.
The inveterate unpunctuality of almost all Indians is a serious obstacle to the progress of the country. Hours and days are wasted through their failure to keep appointments, or to do work at the proper time. The Indian takes long to understand, and never appreciates, the Englishman's craze for punctuality. Because the Englishman grumbles when the Indian is two hours late in keeping his appointment, the latter thinks that it is only part of the former's natural unreasonableness.
This Indian habit of unpunctuality would soon produce confusion and disaster on the railway. For this reason English station-masters at the principal stations, and English drivers and guards on most passenger trains are, at present, a necessity. Subordinates, working under English supervision, are obliged to hurry up. Parsees, who in many ways display great business capacity, make reliable engine-drivers. But they are themselves only settlers in India.
It is difficult to get subordinate Indian railway officials to realise that minutes are of importance. Express trains, especially on some of the lines where the number of European officials is not great, are frequently held up through the carelessness of native station-masters at roadside stations. I remember an express having to wait more than ten minutes near a wretched little country station in the early morning, the driver whistling frantically before the slumbering master, who was the only station official, could be roused to lower the signal. When at last the train moved slowly past the station I saw this Indian official in process of being withered up by the scorching language of the English driver. But in spite of that, the probability is that he soon repeated the offence. Such carelessness involves the additional risk that it tempts drivers to run past signals, on the assumption that the signalman is asleep or inattentive to his duty.
A kindly Hindu offered to drive me in his carriage to the cantonment on some business matter. He suggested that we should start at seven the next morning, and he was a little disappointed because I said that I should not be free to start till 7.30. As the carriage had not appeared at that hour the next morning, I sent over to my neighbour to ask how soon he would be ready. He replied, "In a quarter of an hour." He came over himself at 8.15 to say that there was a slight delay, but that we should very soon be off. He sat talking till 8.45, and then said he would go and expedite matters. He returned in about half an hour, and asked whether after all it might not be better if we went in the Mission tonga. But as that was not available, he said that it was of no consequence, because his own carriage would be ready almost directly. At about a quarter to ten I went over to see what our prospects were, and he then said that he thought we had better put off the expedition for that day, and make a really early start the next morning. He gave strict orders to his servant that the carriage should be ready without fail, and soon after 6 A.M. it actually appeared. But even then we did not get off till nearly nine. And this is only one instance of the delay and uncertainty and waste of time which occurs daily, and many times a day, in some phase or other, and is a necessary feature of all Indian affairs.
Talking to an intelligent young Hindu about this defect, I suggested that it might be partly due to the scarcity of clocks, and that when these became more numerous and better understood there might be some improvement. The young man replied: "Clocks and watches will make no difference; the defect is in the Indian nature."
"Then will this never be cured?" I asked.
"Probably never," he said.
"Never," I answered, "until Christianity teaches you the value of time."
Another Indian, quite independently, expressed the same idea in almost the same words. "Some of us have learnt to be punctual," he said, "in our engagements with English people because we find that they expect it of us. But we shall never be any different in this respect amongst ourselves. We do not think it any drawback to be two or three hours late."
Another Hindu, referring with approval to the punctuality and regularity of the services in the church, said, "We also have our fixed times for our observances. But the difference between us is that you keep them, and we don't."
It must be confessed that Christianity is only partially successful in curing the defect of unpunctuality. Both amongst priests and people, unless there happens to be some Englishman at hand with precise ideas about time, there is an extraordinary vagueness as to the hour for service, especially in country districts. Service begins when a sufficient number of people have arrived. The bell is very little guide, because when it has been rung and nobody comes, it is rung again. A few people turn up much too early. A few more arrive just as service is over. The rest have straggled in at intervals. Neither priest nor people are in any way troubled, or disturbed, or surprised at each other's want of punctuality. Because, it should be added, that even if the congregation has gathered at the proper time, it does not follow as a matter of course that the Indian priest will be punctual.
Servants learn to serve meals at the appointed time when they have once grasped the idea that this is required of them, and they do not hesitate to politely rebuke an habitually punctual master if by chance he is late. If the bell for Office at the Mission-house does not ring precisely at the moment, one of the house-boys is sure quickly to appear before whoever is responsible, and will say reproachfully, "Time is finished." Or, if the response to the bell for meals is not immediate, he will come and say sternly, "The bell has rung." But this does not mean that they see the value of punctuality. They look upon it as an English peculiarity which it is expedient to humour, and which the Englishman ought to uphold, but it does not make them punctual in their own social or business arrangements.
Even although most Indians look forward to meal-time with a good deal of relish, they cause their womenkind much inconvenience by the irregular way in which they come home to meals. Not only has the wife the trouble of trying to keep the dinner hot and ready for an indefinite time, but as she never eats until her husband has been fed, she has to fast until he returns.
In the parable of the Marriage Feast and the Great Supper, we read of servants going to tell the guests, who (it should be noticed) had already been invited, that they were to come, "for all things are now ready." This is what actually takes place in connection with most Indian feasts. The invitation is for a certain hour. But the chance of the meal being ready at that time is very remote. Hence it is usual to tell the more distinguished guests, living within reach, that someone will come and call them when everything is really ready. And the summons is expressed almost in the exact words of the parable.
The few people who happen to arrive at the hour mentioned in their invitation are not disturbed at having to wait for their meal for a period which may extend even to hours. It is to be feared that English guests invited to a dinner-party at seven, and having to wait till nine-thirty before the dinner-bell rang, would not be in a very agreeable frame of mind by the time they sat down to table.
Indian squalor. The Indian's house; how he takes his meals; no home life; physical results. Contrast of the Brahmin doctor's home; his little sons. But without a religion. The Hindu contractor; his visit to the Church; his pathetic position.
Whether the sometimes so-called "simplicity" of Indian native life is really a thing to be desired, is a question which it may be well to ask. It is, undoubtedly, a right general principle that each person's life should be kept as homely and simple as circumstances will allow. There is, however, a distinction between simplicity and the squalor of sordid poverty.
A poor Indian lives as he does chiefly because he cannot help himself, and partly, perhaps, because he has no other ideal. But it is at best an unlovely and cramping form of existence. Though he can sustain life on a remarkably small wage, he is nearly always hungry, and has so little stamina that he easily succumbs under serious sickness. He wears but little clothing, and his young children none at all. But he suffers much in the rains because he has no change of garments, and in the cold weather because his flimsy dress is no protection; and if he gets a little money he gladly buys a blanket, or a warm coat. He has no lamp in his dwelling because he cannot afford it, and after the early nightfall he has to pass his evening hours sitting in the dark, when there is no moon. In almost all the houses of a country village in western India, and in many of the houses in towns, there is no furniture at all. Sometimes there is a small cot for the baby, hung from one of the rafters; and now and then a somewhat larger wooden frame, suspended in the same fashion, is used by the grown-up members of the family to sit or sleep upon. But, as a rule, everybody sits and sleeps on the ground. The floors of the houses are invariably made of earth, beaten down hard, and smeared periodically with a decoction of cow-dung.
Even a well-to-do Indian takes his food sitting on the ground in the place where the food was cooked, which is often a dark lean-to building, attached to the main dwelling. He takes off all his clothing except his dhota, and eats with his fingers in silence. Sociality at such a time is out of place; it diverts the mind from the business in hand, which is that of "filling the belly," as the Indian himself commonly expresses it. The women of the household never sit down to dinner with the rest of the family. They wait on the men, and then take their own meal afterwards by themselves. There is nothing elevating in the process.
The meal of an average Indian Christian family is a complete contrast. Poverty probably compels simplicity and frugality; but father and mother and children sit down together, and there is much sociality. The desire to sit on chairs merely as a mark of distinction is a foolish aspiration. Nevertheless, as an Indian Christian once expressed it to me, "The wish to come off the floor means that we are growing in refinement and politeness."
There are usually no windows in most of the older houses of the poorer people. Modern houses have sometimes several windows, but they are barred and shuttered, and from long habit are usually kept closed by preference. The only movable articles in the houses of the bulk of the Indian population are the brass and copper, or earthenware, cooking pots and pans, and the prosperity of the household can be pretty accurately gauged by the quality, number, and condition of these utensils. A few people own besides an old box or two, generally containing an accumulation of old rags, which nearly all Indians seem to take an interest in collecting. Extra clothes, when they have any, are hung on large wooden pegs, which are fixed into the walls of most rooms in Indian dwellings.
One result of the comfortless and dreary aspect of the interior of an Indian's house is that very few of them have any home life, as we understand it. The Indian does not sit indoors, unless compelled to do so by sickness, or stress of weather. And though the majority are satisfied so to live, because no other manner of life is known to them, there is nothing beautiful about it. Even from a purely physical point of view, it is an unwholesome state of things. The airless, lightless houses are most unsavoury, and in times of sickness and childbirth this is intensified. It cannot be wondered at that plague, or cholera, or malignant fevers, often make frightful ravages in families. Nor does it tend to elevate the character to sit on a mud floor dozing in the dark, or telling scandalous stories with the children drinking in every word.
By way of contrast, I recall the country home of a Brahmin doctor, who has built himself a house at Yerandawana as a haven of refuge in time of plague. It is surrounded by a little garden, radiant with flowers. It lacks the neatness of an English garden, nevertheless it is something far away ahead of anything which any of his neighbours have attempted. His name means "seven sons." He has already got six, and is hoping for the seventh. These six little sons are dressed in ordinary English boys' dress. They are frequent visitors at the Mission bungalow. It may, of course, be only English prejudice which makes this dress appear to me better for the boys themselves than the scant garments of the Indian. Instead of the usual shorn head and small pigtail, their glossy hair, very neat in the case of the elder boys, tumbled about in the case of the younger ones, is a delightful contrast.
But to look in at the open door in the evening at their home life, as I have often done, is entirely convincing. A table is in the middle of the room covered with a red cloth; there is a bright lamp, a few pictures are on the walls, and the party of cheerful boys are sitting round the table. Some are playing games, others are drawing, some are looking at books. Though in such a different clime, the sight brought back the memory of winter evenings in boyish days at home.
This Hindu doctor has practically parted with his religion. There are probably no objects of worship in his country home, except a Tulsi plant on a pedestal in the back compound. This plant is a good deal venerated by women, and no doubt was provided for the benefit of the ladies of his household. But although it is some gain to have given up idolatrous customs, and to have adopted some of the refinements of civilised life, he and his little family are in the unhappy condition at present of being without a religion.
A Hindu contractor, who was visiting the church one day, surprised me by saying, as he turned towards one of the pictures hanging on the walls: "This is the baptism of Christ—the river is the Jordan. He was baptized by John." I asked him how he knew all these facts. He replied that he had been educated at a Jesuit school, and that he had learnt them there. I said that, having been brought up under such circumstances, and having learnt so much and being now well advanced in years, how was it that he was still a Hindu. He answered: "I cannot tell. All I know is that now I do not know what I am."
He asked many intelligent questions. Amongst the rest, did we hear confessions? He was a type of a constantly increasing number of educated men, who, although outwardly appearing as Hindus, only practise the minimum of religious observances, and have no belief at all. Amongst these are men, like the Brahmin doctor, who have imbibed something of the spirit of Christianity from what they have heard and seen, and are distinctly the better for having dropped so much of their Hinduism. But their position is a pathetic one, because so few of them have the courage to act upon the considerable measure of truth which has come home to them.
Intrusion of Western ideas; unfortunate result. Royal palaces. Carving and balustrades; graceful domestic utensils; their high polish. Native jewellery; beautiful examples in villages. Incongruous pictures from Europe. Indian oil paintings; effect of Christianity on Indian art; wall decorations. Women's taste in colour.
Indian art is sadly degenerating through the intrusion of inferior Western designs. Modern houses in most Indian cities lack the artistic grace which distinguishes many of the old houses of wealthy people. Part of the beauty of many ancient dwellings in Poona City is to be found in their admirable proportions. Modern houses in India are often built in a pseudo-Gothic style, with barbarous innovations in the shape of base metal-work and glaring coloured glass, and in which all sense of proportion has been hopelessly lost.
Some of the modern palaces of Indian Rajahs are built and furnished in this style, at an immense cost, and with most incongruous results. Whereas many of the old palaces, and those of northern India in particular, afford beautiful examples of royal residences, well adapted to the needs of Indians, and yet capable of being modified for the use of modern-minded rulers who have adopted some of the household arrangements of the West. Sir Swinton Jacob has shown in the fairy-like palace which he built at Jeypore, but which internally you find exactly suited to the requirements of a modern museum, how possible it is to adapt Indian architecture to present-day needs. There is a good deal of carving, effectively placed and graceful in design and skilfully executed, both on the outside and inside of old houses in the City of Poona; and the balustrades that form the front of the narrow verandahs, which run along so many of the houses with happy effect, afford charming specimens of what the turner's craft can accomplish. But nowadays ironwork, such as adorns a cheap bedstead, more often than not is substituted for the graceful balustrade, and some tawdry decoration, or coarsely-cut stone corbel, takes the place of the picturesque carved woodwork.
The graceful outline of pots and pans used in Indian households has often been remarked upon, and happily at present there are no signs of degeneration in this department of domestic life. The traditional shapes still hold their ground; and even quite common utensils, made of coarse earthenware, are pleasing to look at. The more costly brass and copper vessels in ordinary daily use are delightful examples of how much beauty can be got out of an artistic outline, even when there is an entire absence of ornamentation. In the midst of a vast amount of apparent disregard for cleanliness, there are certain matters about which a Hindu is excessively particular. The metal cups and pans must be polished up to the highest pitch of perfection, and though the Hindu woman will take the dust or mud of the street for her polishing powder, the result of her labours is that the vessels shine brilliantly. They are the more beautiful because, in order that cleanliness may be assured by the smooth, unbroken surface, they are quite unadorned.
It has sometimes been discussed whether the specimens of old Indian brass in museums should be polished or not, and some collectors carefully preserve the old tarnish. It would be impossible in the English climate to keep the objects continually bright, without infinite labour; but it is well to remember, in considering the artistic merits of any brazen article, that its original normal condition was one of high polish.
Native jewellery is also being influenced for the worse by the infusion of Western ideas. The Indian workers in gold and silver are apt now to imitate the design of the cheap jewellery imported from Europe, and they are not aware that their own traditional designs are really much the most beautiful. Many of the chains and necklaces and bracelets worn by villagers, both male and female, are the best examples of unadulterated Indian art, because modern ideas and shapes have not yet reached them; or, if they see some of these new devices when they come to give their order to the goldsmith in the city, they are still conservative enough to prefer the designs of their forefathers. There are quaint and ingenious devices for fastening the necklaces, and part of the charm of the primitive handiwork is its individual character, shown in a certain roughness and want of rigid symmetry.
In the houses of the more old-fashioned wealthy Hindus, in their big reception-room, only rarely used, may be seen curious examples of the mistakes which may be made so easily when introducing objects of art from another country without adequate knowledge. Pictures from England, interspersed with mirrors, form the chief decoration on the walls of many of these saloons. They are hung almost touching each other, very high up, like the "sky-ed" line of the Royal Academy, but with nothing on the walls below, and they often present a most curious jumble: a few good engravings; gaudy pictures, first issued as advertisements; portraits of persons, known and unknown; worthless prints in gorgeous frames; and a picture with some merit, stuck all awry in a frame which does not belong to it.
In the houses of a younger generation you will see large oil paintings by modern Indian artists, in heavy gilt frames and properly hung, although still rather higher than is usual with us. Some are family portraits; some are scenes from the histories of the gods. The colours used are exceedingly brilliant, and the picture itself is often painted on a very bright background. The drawing, which used to be the defective part of Indian pictures, is much improving now that drawing has become a regular part of the education of the Indian boy.
It is rather difficult to judge of the artistic value of a picture painted in a style so unlike Western models. But on the whole one is led to think that the brilliant colours are suited to the country, and that they are blended with astonishing taste, considering the extreme difficulty of blending happily hues of such a pronounced character. If only the study of Western examples helps to purify the Indian style without destroying its individuality, one would hope that Indian artists will eventually produce pictures which will have a great charm of their own.
Their mythology for the most part only supplies them with gods whose traditional form is either grotesque, or repulsive, or sensual. But when Christianity has been accepted, and incorporated into the lives of the people, the wide field for artistic and religious effect which will then open out will give new scope, and one may expect some very striking results when familiar scenes of sacred story are depicted by the Eastern pencil and brush.
Indians are fond of decorating the outside whitewashed walls of their temples and houses with mural paintings. They often present a quaint mixture of hunting-scenes, and animals and gods, and soldiers and Indians and Europeans. One such fresco, on the wall of the house of the headman of Yerandawana village, is a most comical reproduction of the garden front of Windsor Castle, taken from an Illustrated London News, but embellished with many Indian characteristics. The purely decorative part of these wall pictures is often graceful and harmonious, and one can look forward to the day when the Christian Indian artist will joyfully decorate, in his own traditional style, the bare white walls of the village Church of St Crispin, and beautiful saints and angels will take the place of the dethroned gods.
The, often richly coloured, garments of the Indian woman, whether poor or rich, are always in perfect taste and harmony; even the Parsee ladies, who boldly use colours of astonishing brilliancy in their dresses, seem to be able to do so without producing that amazing discord of colour which greets the traveller from the East as he comes back Westwards into the streets of a European city.
THE INDIAN VILLAGE
The village Panchayat; a rough and ready tribunal; its decisions. Magisterial trial of offences on the spot. The Christian Panchayat; its doubtful results; fans the spirit of discord; undesirable reiteration of incidents. Want of wholesome reserve. Knowledge of evil. Out-caste villagers no longer servile; disposal of dead carcases; burial of strangers. Mahars growing prosperous.
In Indian villages there is what is called a Panchayat, or committee of five, for the settlement of disputes, although of late years many of the Panchayats have become practically moribund. The members of this council are chosen from the leading men of the village. All kinds of disputes can be submitted to this court of arbitration, from cases of cattle trespass, or doubtful land boundaries, to breaches of Hindu religious custom. It is the Panchayat which has the power to out-caste a man—a dreaded punishment—which means that his relations and friends will no longer hold intercourse with him; no one will hand him food or water; shopkeepers may refuse to serve him; and if he dies, none of his own people will bury or cremate him, but his body will be left to be disposed of by the scavengers.
The Panchayat is only a rough and ready way of settling disputes, or punishing minor offences. Much of the evidence in the cases which come before it is either false or else grossly distorted. The members of the Panchayat are already probably prejudiced either for or against the offender, and make no attempt to rise above their prejudices. Any one of them will side with the party who will make it worth his while to do so.
The final decision may, or may not, be in accordance with the facts of the case. The guilty person, if an offence has been committed, may escape; and an innocent person, who has few friends and little to offer, may get punished. Men who are poor and unpopular sometimes get sorely bullied, and even ill-treated, in an Indian village. Nevertheless, at present the Panchayat has its use in Hindu India, and the prospect of being brought under its power is a wholesome terror. When India has progressed a stage further this primitive mode of procedure, already a good deal discredited, will no doubt be superseded altogether.
Unfortunately, even in more august tribunals where the desire to be true and just is uppermost, false evidence is so rife that there has to be a good deal of guesswork, and calculations of probabilities, when trying to come to a right decision. It has lately been advocated that magistrates should, when practicable, hold their preliminary trial of offences in the village where the misdemeanour is alleged to have taken place. The witnesses under these circumstances are more disposed to give a true account of what has happened. They are surrounded by neighbours who know, to some extent, whether they are speaking the truth or not, and are apt to betray them in case of falsehood. But if the inquiry takes place at a city police-court, the witnesses come in contact with the false witnesses, and bad characters, and petty lawyers (or "pleaders" as they are called), who hang about in the vicinity, and the usual result is that having been tampered with by some interested person, all hopes of an honest narrative are at an end.