India and the Indians Part 16

In spite of the fact that East and West do not always. .h.i.t it off happily together when travelling, it is then, more than at any other time, that the up-to-date Hindu tries to follow European customs. His bedding, his pillows, his rug-straps, his tin travelling trunk, are all modelled on English lines; although excess of colour and ornamentation indicate Indian taste, and the articles themselves partake either of the flimsy nature of most Indian modern productions, or else they are cheap goods from Europe made expressly for the foreign market. He is nicely dressed in European clothes, but he wears a turban which he takes off and puts up on the rack, just as the Englishman does with his sun tope, displaying either a pigtail of varying dimensions, or else hair cut in English fashion, and the pigtail so reduced that it is invisible. He has a watch which he often consults, and he is interested in the punctuality or otherwise of the train, and will perhaps verify this by frequent reference to his time-table. Possibly he will amuse himself by reading an English magazine or novel from the bookstall. Yet, in spite of this outward conformity to the English model, he is still as completely an Indian, and as little of an Englishman, as when he wore his _dhota_, or even when he thought his loin-cloth sufficient clothing. The result of this is that, except where the crowded state of the train makes it impossible, the Englishman and the Indian as a rule naturally gravitate into different compartments, not from mutual antipathy, but because the habits of the two nations are so different that travelling together makes practical difficulties.

The nature of some of these mutual difficulties may be indicated.

Indians are extremely particular about cleaning their teeth. But the English custom of using a toothbrush, which is only renewed after a period of uncertain duration, is looked upon by the Indian as a most objectionable practice. To retain, and to carry about with you in your bag an instrument which has been used for such a purpose, he feels to be an indication of great want of refinement. His own "toothbrush" is the first finger of his right hand, sometimes supplemented by a small twig taken from a certain tree, which twig he throws away after the operation. The process is carried out with immense energy, and it is accompanied by alarming guttural sounds. The manipulator has with him a bra.s.s vessel, from which he takes deep draughts of water, which he squirts out again with great force. He generally chooses a public place for this toilet operation, such as the front doorstep of his house in a crowded street. The extraordinary publicity given to many domestic matters, with which we are accustomed to a.s.sociate the idea of privacy, tries the feelings of the Englishman just as much as the sensibilities of the Indian are shocked by the permanent toothbrush.

To the new-comer from England the dress of the average Indian woman looks rather scanty. But, on the other hand, the skirts of English ladies, sometimes trailing behind them, and possibly gathering up unknown defilements, awaken in the Indian feelings of disgust.

No Hindu, of whatever rank, would ever think of taking food in his own country except with his fingers. In serving rice and other food to guests at a feast, the hand is always the agent used for the purpose.

Indian Christians, except the few who have become completely Europeanised, rarely take their food in any other way. The arguments used by an Indian in defence of the custom were reasonable. "We always wash," he said, "before we eat, so we know that everybody's hand is clean. And after the meal, before we go to other duties, we wash our hands again. You, on the contrary," he went on to say, "eat with spoons and forks which have been in the mouths of hundreds of different people. You leave them to be cleaned by servants who often do the work carelessly, and who are perhaps dirty themselves."

Using fingers habitually, instead of spoons and forks, is popularly looked upon as indicative of rudimentary civilisation. But it should be added that those who have always been accustomed to eat with their fingers do so with dexterity and neatness. And no one who has seen Indians at their meals would be disposed to say that this method of eating suggests the idea of lack of refinement. But to eat rice elegantly with the fingers needs that your Indian social education should have begun in early childhood.

The Hindu's objection to having his food or water touched by Christians or people of low-caste arose, not so much from any notion of inferiority of station, but chiefly from the nature of the food of these cla.s.ses. It was the touch of the meat-eater, in the days when the Hindu was more strict in his observances than he is now, which brought pollution. Contact with Christians was obnoxious because they eat all kinds of meat, including the sacred cow. Low-caste Hindus were much to be avoided, because they even eat animals which have died from natural causes. The Hindu servants of most Europeans are chiefly drawn from the ranks of this cla.s.s, because they are the only Hindus who are willing to handle dishes containing the uncanny food of the Englishman.

Nowadays meat is eaten more or less frequently, either openly or in secret, by nearly all cla.s.ses. But to the orthodox Hindu it is a matter of wonder that we allow people of what he considers a degraded cla.s.s to minister to our wants. The native women who act as ladies'

maids and nurses, and who are said to be handy and adept, are mostly drawn from the same cla.s.s, and many Indians are puzzled that an Englishman should be willing that his wife and children should be ministered to by these women.

Governors and other important Government officials make formal calls on leading Hindus in native cities, and stay for ten minutes or so talking polite plat.i.tudes, and the Hindu in return puts in an appearance at the Governor's levee. But this, though good as far as it goes, does not do much towards bringing about real mutual understanding. The caste restrictions, which make it impossible for an orthodox Hindu to take food with a Christian, add greatly to the difficulty. A dinner-party in which English and Indians were judiciously intermixed, if it were possible, would do much towards bridging over the gulf. When Indian Rajahs entertain English guests, which they do in English style on a most lavish scale and with truly princely hospitality, the host himself cannot share in the meal, and only puts in an appearance at the end of the banquet to take part in the speech-making.

Here is a curious instance of a complete misunderstanding, arising entirely from the different customs of East and West. A Brahmin student told me, as an example of the intolerance of the British, that a young Indian friend of his in London had been requested by an English family to leave the house because he had bare feet. I asked for particulars, and the Brahmin said that the young Indian, having a letter of introduction to this family, went to present it. As the day was very hot, while he was waiting in the drawing-room he took off his shoes and stockings. In his own country this would have been a perfectly natural thing to do. In fact, in his own home ordinary politeness would have made him leave his shoes at the door. The maidservant who had ushered him in, returning for some purpose, was amazed to see what the visitor had done, and went and reported the fact to her mistress. She, probably thinking that they had either a madman or a would-be thief to deal with, sent to request him to leave the house, which he did indignantly, and wrote to his friends in India to tell them how he had been insulted by the proud English.

The rudeness of the thoughtless or ill-bred Englishman is very regrettable, because it is productive of that feeling of soreness which lies at the bottom of a great deal of the smouldering discontent which, from time to time, makes itself apparent amongst the upper cla.s.ses in India. And some of the younger Indian men try to retaliate as far as they dare, by being in their turn off-hand and cheeky. There are indications that the same sort of spirit is spreading to some of the lower cla.s.ses, which might easily become a source of serious danger. Anyhow it tends to make the process of amalgamation between the two races increasingly difficult and slow.

There is a great charm about many Indians, and by those who set themselves in earnest to understand them and to cultivate their friendship, a great deal of happy progress can be made. But it must always be remembered that there cannot be complete unity of heart without the true religion, and it is only by their mutual incorporation into the household of G.o.d that Indians and Englishmen will become one nation.

CHAPTER x.x.xV

SERVANTS IN INDIA

Government officials and missions. The honest native Christian. Christian servants. Housekeeping in India. The heathen butler. The _Dasara_ festival. Countenance of Hinduism. The visitors to Parbatti. The festival of the cattle. S. Anthony's Day.

There are a few Government officials in India who are not disposed to smile on missionary enterprise, or on those engaged in it. They think that natives had better be left to themselves, so far as religion is concerned, and that the efforts of the missionary are a disturbing element; and his reasonable complaints to officials of this type about ordinary matters, such as the state of the roads in his district, or the supply of water, often meet with slight recognition, or none at all. How far this att.i.tude on the part of the official may be due to the faults, or want of tact of the missionary, I cannot say. Want of appreciation of what missions are doing for the people of a country often arises merely from lack of knowledge, and most Government officials show generous recognition of the work, and give it their kindly aid, when they come into real contact with it and its results.

It was a pleasant relief from the stereotyped "board-ship" saying, that all native Christians are rascals, to hear the following from one of the engineers of the great irrigation system of the Panjab. In the course of ordinary conversation he happened to say that, in all his experiences, he had only met with one really honest native, and that he was a Christian. "In fact," he went on to say, "the other men led him such a life, just because he was honest, that I had to transfer him to a new district." This testimony was the more significant, because there is no sphere in which there are greater opportunities of exacting unlawful commission than in the department which deals with the distribution of water.

[Ill.u.s.tration: THE INDIAN BUTLER.]

The common criticism of the casual Englishman, when he is talking about missions, that a Hindu servant is better than a Christian one, has an element of truth in it. That is to say, the Christian servant will not be so submissive as the heathen one. His Christianity has developed his grit, and he will be less willing to put up with injustice, or violent language, or the habit, once common but now almost universally reprobated, of cutting his pay as a punishment for offences real or imaginary. He will not be quite so ready to be on duty for unlimited periods at his master's pleasure, and he will expect to be allowed time to go to church. Some of these new characteristics may be of the nature of defects, but they also mean that he is more of a man than he was in his heathen days. And as regards honesty and general trustworthiness, although every Indian Christian is not altogether impeccable, he is on a completely different plane to his heathen comrade. It is also an unspeakable relief, to anyone whose Christianity is something more than form, to have Christian servants round about you.

Housekeeping in India is either difficult or very easy, according to the view that is taken of the moral responsibility of a householder.

If you feel it a duty, or if poverty compels you, to endeavour not to allow yourself to be cheated, the process of housekeeping will become a contest between you and your heathen servants in which, in spite of your vigilance, you will be continually worsted. If, on the other hand, you are reconciled not to worry much about prices, and if you do not grudge the traditional gifts of certain seasons, you can obtain what is probably the most efficient and devoted service in the world.

Your head-servant will take the entire responsibility of your establishment. When he has learnt what your wishes are, he will see that his underlings carry them out to the letter. Meals will be admirably served, and you will be waited on noiselessly and graciously. Your own unpunctuality, your unreasonableness, the sudden arrival of unexpected guests, none of these things will disturb the admirable serenity of your Hindu or Mohammedan Indian butler. And whatever the emergency, you will find him equal to the occasion. But in return for this, you must not grumble because at every turn, and in every transaction, he is privately supplementing his official income.

Those who employ Christian servants would do well to remember that they ought to take care to pay them somewhat in excess of the small wages which will satisfy a Hindu. Otherwise they will find it difficult to live, and may be tempted to practise the same methods by which the heathen servant probably doubles his receipts.

There is a popular Hindu festival called the _Dasara_, and this is one of the days when stable-servants expect to be tipped, unless they know that their master disapproves of Hindu ceremonies. On that day horses are decorated and garlanded, and the grooms bring them round to the front verandah of the bungalow in order to obtain the expected recognition. Care needs to be taken to see that, in the desire to be kind, a sort of tacit countenance of Hinduism is not involved. English visitors to India unthinkingly are sometimes remiss in this respect.

There is a hill just outside Poona City called Parbatti. It is a well-known centre of idol worship, and for this reason many visitors climb up it out of curiosity, but also to see the view. One of the custodians of the temples, after showing an English priest the idols, etc., asked for a contribution towards "the support of the temple," as he expressed it. And in spite of the terms in which the request was couched, the priest gave an offering, to the astonishment of his better instructed lay companion.

Hindus have a festal day for their cattle, called _Bile polar_, on which they give them extra food; their horns are coloured and decorated with gold paper and long ta.s.sels made of the fibrous roots of a shrub, and a variety of devices are imprinted on their bodies in red paint, generally circles or the outstretched hand. The biggest bull of the chief man of the village sometimes wears a sort of crown, or some farmer who is well-to-do drapes his best cattle in ornamental cloths, reaching nearly to the ground on each side. The people also set up clay models of cattle in their houses at this season, to which they do reverence. When the cattle have been decorated they are driven, with shouting and noise, up to a temple; and the fact that it is their festal day does not save them from the whacks which the boys bestow upon them freely in order to hurry them on. Some of their owners go into the temple and worship the G.o.d, and soon afterwards the cattle are driven back with the same demonstrations to their respective homes.

It used to be the custom (and perhaps may be still) for horses to be driven past the Pope on the Feast of S. Anthony (the patron saint of animals), and he blessed them as they went by. It is good that the creatures who do us faithful service should be gratefully remembered.

The Hindu festival of the animals might possibly be Christianised.

Their generous rations and their gay decorations, with the exception of the paint marks on their bodies, are customs which might be retained, and they might be brought in joyful procession to the church door on S. Anthony's Day to be blessed by the parish priest.

CHAPTER x.x.xVI

THE EDUCATED HINDU

Education divorced from religion. Its effects on character; instance of this in Babaji. Wealth will not purchase social position. The new bungalow. Quarrels with the contractor.

Indians nervous about thieves. Night raids. Robberies amongst plague refugees. Skilful thieves. Babaji's inconsistency; removing his neighbour's landmark. The future of the bungalow. Airy houses unpopular. Preference for apparent discomfort.

There are many opportunities in India of studying the effect on character of education when divorced from religion. The effect on a few has been that the cultivation of their mental gifts in secular study has helped them to understand and a.s.similate Christian truth.

Others, with a natural propensity for evil, have had their capacities for mischief quickened by the varied knowledge which they acquired.

But with the vast majority of Indians, and more especially Hindus, English secular education does not alter their character, and except for the a.s.sumption of a few European externals, they remain exactly the same as they were before. Even many of those who go to England, if they do not take up some definite profession on their return, drop back so entirely into their former manner of life that you would hardly suppose it credible that they had ever been out of their own country.

If you live amongst the people you will frequently meet with examples of this kind of thing. And it should be observed that it is generally in a man's ordinary everyday life that his real nature comes out. Here is an ill.u.s.tration:--A Hindu, who was by caste a bra.s.s-worker, had been for some years in the important position of a.s.sistant collector.

His father having been a good English scholar and a great reader of books, both in that language and in Marathi, had given his son an education which enabled him to rise to the responsible post which he ultimately filled. He, in his turn, educated his sons carefully, and they knew English well. The family possessed houses and land, so that, together with the father's official income, they were well off.

But in India wealth will not purchase social position, as it does to some degree in the West. Money is not powerful enough to override caste. The members of this family, whom we will call Babaji, did their best to pose as high-caste people, and were ready to dispense lavish hospitality if it would have been accepted; but Brahmins ignored them, and they never seemed to a.s.sociate on equal terms with anyone except members of their own caste, or those below it.

When the father of the family retired on his pension, he returned to his own district and prepared to settle down. Besides a house in the city, they had a sufficiently habitable one in a large garden in a village in the Poona district. But the old grandfather had died in this country house, and was said to haunt it. Servants refused to stay there, and none of the family would live there. So they pulled it down and prepared to build a new house in another garden.

I had an opportunity of watching the whole progress of this project, and it gave me a good deal of insight into the character that Hinduism creates. Babaji having seen something of English ways during his term of office as collector, prepared to build the sort of house which would suit an Englishman. It was conveniently planned, and had many doors and windows and large verandahs. He also employed a contractor of some repute. The house was quickly built, and would have been an excellent one in all respects but for certain economies which Babaji insisted on, to the great indignation of the contractor. He bought a set of old doors and windows from a house in Bombay which was being pulled down, and had them adapted to his new bungalow. And having been accustomed to deal with petty contractors, with whom it is customary to carry on a perpetual war of words, he tried the same plan with his present builder, and whenever he came to inspect, railed at him for faulty work and bad materials.

I asked him why he did this, when there was nothing to justify his complaints. He said that it was the only way of keeping men up to their work. There is also an underlying idea that if the cry of faulty construction is uttered with sufficient persistency, it will give an excuse for cutting down the final bill. Babaji made an effort in this direction also, but the contractor said that unless he got his money he should take the matter into court, and refused to have anything more to do with the job. After much fierce wrangling, the latter came triumphantly one day to show me the cheque which Babaji had just written for him.

So Babaji was left to finish off his bungalow in his own way, and I think that on the whole he was rather glad, because he could now do things more in accordance with his own ideas. The English type of bungalow is not really suited to Indian taste. A dark, windowless house with an earthen floor is where the ordinary Indian feels most at home. The first thing that Babaji did when left to himself was to put iron bars to the windows to keep out thieves, and to close in the fronts of his verandahs in the same way, so that they looked like cages in the Zoological Gardens. Most Indians live in constant dread of nocturnal thieves, and their fear is not entirely without justification. In years gone by the raids made by robbers in villages were sufficiently alarming. These depredators went to great lengths in their efforts to induce women to declare where their gold and silver ornaments were hidden. The threat to cut off their nose was not an empty one, if we can trust the statement that in those days the sight of a woman thus disfigured was not uncommon.

More efficient police supervision has done much to prevent these organised raids, although they are still not unknown. But ordinary night thieves are apt to come along wherever they think there is plunder, and this type of Indian thief is as skilful in reality as he is proverbially said to be. The habit of hiding money, instead of investing it usefully, or the common custom of turning it into ornaments for women, makes the visit of a thief to the house of a well-to-do Indian likely to be lucrative.

When people moved out from the city because of plague and camped in the surrounding villages, they were much troubled by thieves. The refugees were afraid to leave their valuables in their shut-up homes in the city, lest the house should be raided in their absence; and yet, lodging in tents and frail huts, it was very difficult to circ.u.mvent the robbers. Many people camped as close as they could get to the Mission settlement at Yerandawana, under the idea that thieves avoid the neighbourhood of Europeans. Nevertheless an extraordinarily clever robbery took place in a hut exactly opposite the Mission gateway. This hut was built of split bamboos tied to a wooden framework and then plastered with mud. A house of this kind, carefully put together, affords good shelter, and when the mud peels off it can easily be repaired. A widow with her sister and little daughter lived in this shelter during plague time. Their fortunes were invested in the precarious form of personal jewellery. At night these ornaments were put into two boxes, which they placed under the cot on which one of the women slept, in order, as they thought, to be quite secure against thieves. In spite of this precaution they woke up one morning to find their treasure gone. Thieves had dug under the walls of the house and had made an opening large enough to creep through.

How they were able to do this without waking the inmates, and how they took the boxes from under the bed and got away with them un.o.bserved, a light having been kept burning in the room, is one of the mysteries of Indian crime. The boxes were found, broken open and empty, a few fields off, but the thieves were never detected. I myself saw the burrow through which they got in.

Babaji had built his new bungalow immediately behind two dilapidated cottages, in which he had sometimes lodged during brief visits to the country. Everyone took for granted that he would pull down these cottages when the new house was ready. They ab.u.t.ted on to the front verandah, and occupied the ground which would naturally form the approach to the house. But when Babaji, with pardonable pride, was showing me round the completed house, he told me that he had decided to retain the two cottages; they would be useful as cookroom and storeroom; besides, they had been built by his father, and so out of respect to his memory he would wait till they fell down of themselves.

I represented to him what a barbaric arrangement it was, but without effect, and next day he was busy making a pa.s.sage-way from the new bungalow into one of the old cottages.

His next exploit was to try and acquire a strip of land by removing his neighbour's landmark. Babaji wanted to build stables and other out-buildings. In digging his foundations he purposely encroached about four feet over his boundary line. When the owner remonstrated he endeavoured by bl.u.s.ter to carry the thing through. He pointed to a bogus boundary stone of his own planting, and called in the village clerk to certify that there was an error in the village map, and that the real boundary line was as Babaji represented it to be; the average Hindu village clerk being ready to certify anything you like, if you make it worth his while to do so. The owner of the land seated himself on the disputed plot and defied the workmen to continue their operations. The dispute continued for some days, waxing more and more furious, until the owner and the contractor at last came to blows--a form of demonstration which in India is impressive in appearance, but the amount of damage done is infinitesimal. I was then asked to act as arbitrator in the case. I declined; but I told Babaji that he was totally in the wrong. Finally, after all this waste of time and temper, he gave up the struggle and withdrew his forces to within the proper limit.

That a man of education, who had himself been a magistrate, should have made this attempt to filch a strip of land off his neighbour might seem unaccountable. But his natural Indian characteristics, when circ.u.mstances prompted it, came uppermost, and his English training for the time being went to the wall.

The new bungalow proved after all to be a white elephant. The water-supply was limited, and without plenty of water Babaji said he could not live there. His servants, who were city people, said that if he went to live in the country they would not go with him. So the bungalow awaits the day, which we sometimes dream of, when it may fall into our hands and become a convalescent home for Indians, which is a great need, and for which it is admirably adapted.

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