Tour Of India - Calcutta And Darjeeling
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
From Aurangabad to Calcutta—The multiplication of castes-Calcutta Museum and Zoo—The Durbar changes--The Holi festival—The drugged Rohilla—Berar—Two anecdotes—ii A change of climate—A Jain temple—From Calcutta to Siliguri—The Terai and the Himalayas Darjeeling Kinchinjanga Tiger Hill—A rhododendron forest—iii Attractiveness of the people—Nepalese honesty—The Bengali Babu—Colour division in Calcutta Hindu views of administration—Two Bengal views of the Durbar changes—Simultaneous examinations—A grim and instructive famine story.
March 6, 1912, CALCUTTA. -I left Aurangabad on Monday at two o'clock. Knowing the train would be hot, I shut up all the Venetian shutters on both sides and thus kept it down to 92, which was not at all uncomfortable. I got to Manmad at six, and there caught the Nagpur mail (i.e., Bombay to Calcutta via Nagpur). I got a carriage to myself, not one of the usual sort, but like a wagon-lit for two. It had a fan and was quite comfortable. In fact, the train altogether was about the best I've been on.
I woke up yesterday at Nagpur. From there onwards all day the country was as flat as a billiard-table, with hills in the distance occasionally, and nearly all cultivated to the last inch. But the out-standing difference was that it was green and not, brown. There were long stretches of short down-like grass for pasture, reminding me of Nazeing Common rolled flat ; water was plentiful, though the numerous rivers were very low, and the trees were beginning to show spring tints of green. The whole effect was of an even, peaceful prosperity. It was a cool day, my thermometer never showing above 84°, and I enjoyed the contrast to the brown and parched Deccan with its temperature of 980.
What you say about castes in general is true, but it does not account for the extraordinary Indian tendency to multiply castes and sub-castes and subsub-castes. The four original castes of priests, soldiers, merchants, and artisans are intelligible. Their origin was probably racial, and they were adopted by religion. But to-day there are more than two thousand three hundred castes which mayn't inter-marry or "interdine," not all above one another, but often parallel ; and the tendency is still to form more. The result is an inter-breeding which has seriously lessened the birth-rate. In some castes the shortage of women is a perpetual problem and this was one of the causes of the child-marriage system. Two thousand splits rather mar national unity.
I went out yesterday morning and saw the Museum ; the most interesting thing there is the rail of the Barahut Stupa—one of the finest Buddhist rails in existence, dating about 200 B.C. Fergusson explains what a rail is, and also gives pictures of this Barahut one. The carving is very good and must be the outcome of a long tradition, though I have never heard of anything older.
There were also several fragments of carving in the Museum and some figures from near Peshawar, showing unmistakable Greek influence ; in some cases the mixture was very effective. Fergusson discusses this also.
Yesterday evening I went to the Zoo; it is a very good one, the best I have seen outside London, and in a way better, because it is confined to tropical animals and they all look so well. A. great feature of it is the friendliness of the animals. Everything except the lions and tigers came up to be scratched. They had two glorious Birds of Paradise.
The climate of Calcutta is very disagreeable just now. It isn't fearfully hot, only about 8 3°, but you want a pair of gills before you can breathe with comfort : and the papers say it is cooler and drier than usual. I should think the climate alone was a very sensible argument in favour of shifting the capital. I don't see how any one could see a thing through in this atmosphere.
Still every one here is very cross about the transfer, which they take as a personal insult to Calcutta : and especially they resent the way it was done. On the merits of the case I have heard nothing new ; but I haven't had time to see many people yet. Of those I have, even the opponents of the change say it will be a very good thing to move the Government offices away from the Bengali Babus, who now swarm in every office. No Englishman has a good word for them : they are said to have less character and backbone than any other Indians, and to be intolerably conceited, besides being seditious. Like so many clever people, they think cleverness is the whole qualification for government.
The papers here continue to denounce the changes, but so far as .1 have detected no argument in any of them : it is all abuse.
All the time I was in bed at Aurangabad the Holi festival was going on. It is the most in-decent of all the Hindu festivals and about the most popular. I could hear the processions from my room, singing songs to Shiva, whose taste is certainly not Puritan. They also fling red paint over each other, and produce a disgusting mess. The Christian women can't go out while it lasts, because the whole Hindu population adopts for the time being the ethics of Lot's fellow-citizens.
My hostess told me several very interesting things about their work in the city among the Mohammedans, and especially how the relatives of converts often give them drugs which make them temporarily or permanently insane. (I heard of the same thing at Betgeri.) Here is one of her stories.
One day a Mohammedan Rohilla came with his wife to the padre and said he was anxious to become a Christian. His wife took my hostess aside and asked her, " What are you going to give me if I become a Christian too?" "Nothing, in the sense you mean," she replied. " What, nothing ? Then I shall not become one," answered the woman: " but I shall like to live among Christians."
So the husband became a catechumen, and they both lived near the mission, and never went into the native city. But after a time the man grew keen, and asked to be allowed to accompany the missionaries on their weekly preaching in the bazaar. So they let him come, after warning him not to eat or drink anything there. Well, his friends saw him among the preachers, and pre-tended to be reconciled to him and impressed by the preaching, and finally enticed him into a house on his way back. Here he refused to eat or drink, but rashly accepted a pipe to smoke. An hour later he dashed up to the mission-bungalow in a tonga in a state of frenzy, seized his wife and family, and drove off with them to the city, yelling the most fearful imprecations against the mission.
For two years after this he was kept in captivity in the city, and the padre only saw him once, and then he was in the charge of a fierce Mohammedan and hardly spoke. At last late one night the padre was awakened by some one knocking at his bungalow and found the man and his family out-side. There had been a fire in the city, and the house in which they were prisoners had been burnt, and they had escaped in the confusion. The padre took them in, and this time they stayed and were all baptized. But after a while they thought it wiser to leave Aurangabad : so they moved to Bombay, where the man finally died a Christian.
I ought to have told you last week of a trans-action which gives the measure of the incompetence of Moghulai government. The province of Berar used to be under it, and though Berar is one of the most fertile districts in India, the Nizam could never get more than seventeen lakhs of revenue out of it. So when Lord Curzon offered him twenty-five lakhs per annum in perpetuity if he would transfer it to the Raj, he accepted : and now that we administer it, it produces, with the same taxes, fifty lakhs per annum. It is in this sense that the Nationalist accusation is true that we have trebled the taxation—if for " taxation " you read " revenue."
I heard two rather nice little stories the other day. One is of Mrs. A., whose absent-mindedness is a proverb. One night she was dining with the Lieutenant-Governor, and after tasting the entrée leaned across to her husband, remarking, " Really, my dear, we must change the cook."
The other story throws a sidelight on the police administration. The Lieutenant-Governor was once so moved by a beggar-woman's appeal that he gave her two rupees. Overcome with gratitude, she murmured, " May you become a head-constable ! "
Tomorrow I start for Darjeeling, so I had better bring this to an end now.
March 9, DARJEELING.-Oh, it is nice to feel cold again ! I never thought I should enjoy that sensation, even with a sweater and thick overcoat over my evening clothes ; but really, after Calcutta, it is a positive pleasure. Not that it's really cold, only 46° outside and 56° in here, but it feels like zero. On Thursday in Calcutta it was 92°, and the humidity of the air was registered as 97°, 100° representing saturation, and my undergarments also.
On Friday morning my hostess went with me to see a famous Jain temple which is one of the few " sights " of Calcutta. It was in the native quarter, and she had never seen it in all the twenty-five years she has been there. It was very striking and rather beautiful, though it sounds alarming. It is built of white marble, but is almost entirely covered with glass mosaic, brilliant colour patterns on white, like a kaleidoscope. It stands in a garden, the beds of which are divided into patterns by white glass mosaic, while all about the white stone tanks and paths stand white statues of painted cast-iron, some Indian, some classical. The effect was dazzling and the sun-light carried the crudity.
I left Calcutta by the 5 p.m. mail for Darjeeling. This is (at first) the quickest train in India, and we reached the Ganges at about eight o'clock. One has to cross in a steamer, though a bridge is now being built at a cost of £3,000,000. It took an hour to cross, as one has to thread the sand-banks for some distance upstream. The steamer's searchlight showed up the bare-looking banks and attracted multitudes of moths.
We got into a train the other side and slept till seven this morning, when we reached Siliguri, where we changed into the Darjeeling-Himalaya Railway, an absurd little railway of two-foot gauge that did incredible things the whole way up here. It runs along the roadside like a tram and doesn't mind how often it crosses and recrosses. After about three-quarters of an hour we came to the hills and then the ascent began. From that point for forty miles the gradient averaged one in thirty, and was often one in twenty-four, but the engine kept it up as if it were level, puffing along at about ten miles an hour and twisting in the most Through-the-Looking-Glassy way. One was perpetually seeing the engine and the guard's van out of the same window at the same moment, and one quite had the feeling that if one put one's head out of the window it might be taken off by the engine. Twice (four times the book says: I only noticed two) we looped the loop, and so quickly that if the train had been a long one the engine would have been directly over the rear carriages. Four times we backed up a zigzag and then on, without so much as pausing, let alone changing engines : it was like the Swedish dance.
The lowest foot-hills, the deadly Terai, were covered with dense jungle—tall, straight, mast-like forest trees growing close, with rank vegetation below. It was wild and interesting, but only moderately beautiful. The most noticeable plants were a palm-head which grew like mistletoe, high up on the trees; coarse and flowerless rhododendrons below ; and a very large-leaved bamboo, in each clump of which were two or three quite bare stems that stood out like giant fishing-rods, bending right over at the end.
We soon got above the forest and wound our way up through normal bush-veld. A little later we had a grand view of valleys and rugged hillsides, but they weren't very lovely, though on a big scale.
I think one missed the brilliant colouring of the Western Ghats. Here the hills were dull ochre-brown, and the jungle trees were of a colourless green, so to speak ; one hardly noticed them in the distance, except where there were groves of what they call "flame of the forest," which is a tree like an ash, and just now it has no leaves but is covered with flowers of an amazing fire-scarlet, bright enough and orange enough to make poynsetias look a dirty magenta. In places these trees were massed, with gorgeous effect.
After two and a half hours of winding we came to Kurseong. About this point nearly all the lower hills were cleared and planted with tea-gardens, which also ran in terraces a long way up the sheer sides of the main hills.
It was after Kurseong that the scenery became* really lovely. We began to climb round the side of a vast amphitheatre, formed by two huge curved spurs of mountain about ten thousand feet high.
We were high up (about five thousand feet), on the one mountain and looked right across to the other, over a series of lower spurs which converged to a point. Between each spur was a deep, narrow valley, and the three valleys united like a bird's foot in one big ravine with a big river-bed, which seemed to be straight below us four thousand feet down. All the spurs were covered with tea-gardens, squat, pincushiony bushes dotted over brown earth, and we had a bird's-eye view of the little huts and sheds of grass and corrugated iron, ever so far below. The line crept along the precipitous mountain wall, in and out among the huge buttresses that ran sheer down to the valley far below, leaving hardly a ledge for the trains. The other wall of the amphitheatre was dark and dim in the haze, and through the gap at the far end I could just catch a faint glimpse of yellow, which was the first sign of the great snow-ranges.
Darjeeling proved to lie just beyond the horn of the mountain wall we were climbing along. It is perched on a spur seven thousand feet high, running out from a great block of mountain about ten thousand feet high. On three sides it looks sheer down into chasms, gorges, and valleys about five thousand feet deep, though they are full of
.,smaller hills, while beyond the chasm on the north, northeast, and north-west (which is about thirty miles wide) rise the Eternal Snows, a chain of peaks ranging from twenty thousand feet to twenty-nine thousand feet high. (The perpetual snow-line is about seventeen thousand feet.)
Unfortunately, the Eternal Snows have a habit of being shrouded in mist, and have been so for the last three weeks, so I could see practically nothing of them this afternoon, though after a while I caught sight of the top of Kinchinjanga in a perfectly absurd and impossible place for a mountain-top, far above where any self-respecting cloud would let itself be seen. There wasn't enough of it to be beautiful, but it was the most extra-ordinary sensation to see a piece of snow up above the haze (there were no clouds, only the air wasn't transparent) about where one is accustomed to see the moon, and to realize that it belonged to a mountain forty-five miles off.
Kinchinjanga is twenty-eight thousand feet if you put Etna on to the top of Teneriffe you still would have to put almost all Parnassus on the top of them to get level.
Sunday. When I got up early this morning there was less haze and a good bit of Kinchinjanga could be seen, say the top two miles. It was wonderfully lovely; the snow was shining a glistening yellow-white, and where the rock is too steep for snow to lie the contrast added greatly to the effect. But there was something, almost unreal and incredible about it. The lower parts were completely hidden by the haze, and this gave the impression that one was looking over the low near hills ad infinitum ; i.e., at first it seemed as if Darjeeling were the highest point in the range, since the chasm which surrounds it on three sides (and which is fifteen to thirty miles wide) stretched as far as the eye could see, owing to the haze (no clouds, only haze). Then suddenly one realizes that there is this vast snowy pile right away above, beginning at three miles high, i.e., about where Mont Blanc leaves off, and rising another two miles into the clear blue air, seemingly afloat high upon the haze.
It remained visible till about twelve, and then faded like the Cheshire Cat. The rest of the range I've not yet seen.
Tuesday, Yesterday morning faith triumphed and I got up at three, though people were pessimistic of the prospect of a view. The object of this manoeuvre is to reach Tiger Hill by sun-rise. It is seven miles away and a thousand feet higher than Darjeeling, and is sometimes above the haze when Darjeeling is in it : moreover, from it Everest can be seen.
I started on a pony at four, looking like Tweedledee in battle kit and feeling like an iceberg. There was a half-moon to light the path, but one could see nothing distant After hour and a half it suddenly began to get light, but the haze was impenetrable. However, I per-severed, and on nearing the top of Tiger Hill a turn in the path brought me facing Kinchinjanga, and it gave me quite a start, more like the Cheshire Cat than ever. This time it was silver as the moon, and looked about half the distance it had on Sunday.
As I reached the summit, the top of the mist in the east and west began to take on lovely colours of pink and blue in layers, like a rainbow. The mist to north and south was steely blue, and almost as lovely as anything it could have hidden. Above it towered the eye-compelling Kinchinjanga, and to right and left the tops of the rest of the range just showed in a long, serrated line. Then a brilliant golden light caught the top of Kinchinjanga, and it seemed as if a kind of liquid fire ran down it till the whole of its snows glowed with a cold, yellow glitter that drove the mist down, so that quite half the mountain showed, every line and ridge as clear as possible, looking about ten miles off. Away to the west Everest showed as clearly as if it were twenty miles away instead of a hundred and ten, but looked quite small of course.
The view was so lovely that it is difficult to imagine that anything could be lovelier, and so I can only feebly regret that I have never had a really clear view, such as one gets after rain, when there is no haze and Kinchinjanga looks as though one could throw a stone on to it. From a purely aesthetic point of view the haze, with its tantalizing translucences, is a thing of great beauty in itself, but it doesn't cater for globe-trotters. The only month you are certain of a clear view is October.
What I do really regret is that I haven't time to make the expedition to Phallut. This is four days' march away, and one rides through a rhododendron forest, which every one says is the absolute acme of loveliness. Even here the rhododendrons are trees—not bushes, but small trees, like laburnums, and covered with smallish but brilliantly red blossoms. In the forest, however, they are big trees the houses are built of their timber—and every conceivable colour abounds, and the ground is covered with light snow. Phallut itself is ten thousand feet, and from it Everest looks closer than Kinchinjanga does from here.
March 11th, DARJEELING. The people here are the most attractive I have seen. They are Chinese-faced, and cheerful as dromedaries, grinning most humorously while they carry incredible loads up precipitous roads. They pack their loads on their backs, holding them with a broad strap, which then passes round their foreheads, so that most of the weight is on their necks.
Peer Mohammed, however, is rather scornful of them, probably because they are Buddhists. He says, " They eating meat dot is bad. Whin be the meat smelling, and leetle animal coming out, then they cooking." But he gave an unsolicited testimonial to the honesty of the Nepalese (we are close to the boundaries of Nepal), which he attributes to the following law : " When a man stealing, tir, judge give hookum for men to take him outside to the city, and tying him to one big post. Then two men making claws with iron, like be a tiger, and putting claws on their hands : then scratching and tear his face and all his flesh from his bones. Then, whin he be dying, they tying him to an iliphant by the leg, and a man going in front hold up paper with one writing, which say, ` If be any one stealing, then be treating like this.' That reason for nobody stealing in Nepal."
It is remarkable how unanimously all the officials I have met denounce the Bengali Babu, as a politician, at any rate.
The most intelligent of them admit he has the artistic temperament : he is a real poet, a -dreamer of beautiful dreams, but he has nothing of what we mean by "character." His whole mind is governed by words, and impervious to facts in a way which no inexperienced Englishman can or will believe. Consequently they are wholly unpractical. They have no conception of consistency. For instance, my host told me he had seen one of them write in successive weeks two irreconcilable articles on two aspects of the same question. When he pointed out to the writer that the two couldn't possibly be reconciled, he merely replied, " Why should they be?"
Naturally they have no business capacity : and they are too untrustworthy for responsible positions in commerce : so you see the whole commerce of Calcutta in the hands of illiterate Marwaris, who employ Bengali B.A.'s as clerks.
I wish I had had the chance of seeing some of the Babus in Calcutta, as I should then feel more competent to pass judgment: but there seems to be far more of a colour division in Calcutta society than anywhere else I have been ; and I had no chance of seeing any Indians. It is a great pity : and I'm afraid it's largely the fault of the women. If they chose to face some boredom, they could do a lot to promote good feeling: and the boredom would vanish as soon as acquaintance had produced subjects of common interest. In Madras they got on swimmingly.
The only place where I have met Bengalis is in London at Bar dinners ; and I'm afraid that what I've seen of them there confirms the worst I've heard of them here: but perhaps those are un-favourable specimens.
My host also told me some stories to show how impossible it is to make them understand our view of administration : and the worst of it is, we so strongly feel that our view is right that we can't surrender it and let them work out theirs ; because fundamentally both views are based on religion, and even sceptic Englishmen have enough Christianity
oaked into them to reject the Hindu view. For instance, the Brahman regards killing an outcaste as on a par with killing a crow—the penalty is the same in his sacred law ; but we can't possibly acquiesce in that view.
One of his stories showed how the Hindu scale of values upsets our scales of justice. It was this : A Brahman had murdered his wife, and the case was as clear as daylight. The judge fixed the trial for a certain day. His clerk begged him not to : but he insisted on fixing it for that day. (That is our cardinal fault : we insist without asking what -the native's objection is.) When the trial came off, the evidence was conclusive, and the prisoner pleaded guilty. The jury without hesitation returned a verdict of Not Guilty. The judge was naturally indignant, and accused his clerk of corrupt collusion.
The clerk replied in gentle remonstrance : " Sir, I administered the advice that judicial proceedings undertaken today would terminate unsatisfactorily. Today is the celebration of the anniversary of the Hindu New Year, and no sagacious, pious, or comprehensive Hindu would inauspiciously commence an era of his interminable existence by condemning a twice-born Brahman to the indignity of capital punishment." I believe it is always very difficult to get a native jury to condemn for murder ; but to condemn a Brahman on New Year's Day would be unthinkable.
Another curious thing I heard is that no Hindu can understand our distinction between an intentional crime and an unintentional. It is all part of the mechanical doctrine of Karma but one could find parallels in the Greek tragedians and the old Testament.
But it all makes one wonder whether Hindus can ever be brought to appreciate just government for the people.
March 13th CALCUTTA.—Since writing last I have met two members of the Bengal Civil Service, who both had interesting things to say about the Durbar changes.
The first quite confirmed what I had taken to be the cardinal point, viz., the helplessness of the Bengal Government under the old arrangement. He said that when any one came to the Bengal Government with a petition or a grievance and failed to get what they wanted, they always went across to the Government of India offices and as often as not got it there. Consequently the Govern-ment of Bengal never dared give a decision for fear of the snub of having it reversed that afternoon.
He was also very glad to get the Government of India away from the Bengali Babus. He said that these gentry now occupy about seventy per cent. of the native posts in the Government of India Secretariat, whereas at Delhi he thought they would dwindle to twenty per cent.
His chief objection to the re-partition was that it left Bengal with hardly any healthy stations. Formerly the fever-stricken Civil Servants of Bengal could go to the hilly Behar country, and those of Eastern Bengal to Assam. Now the only hill district will be Darjeeling, employing one man, besides which there are six or seven districts near the Behar border, which, though not hilly, are not feverish. This is a very real grievance, which might be met by frequent exchanges of men, but such a system is too revolutionary to be likely of adoption.
I see this point was made in the Lords : the full text of the debate appeared this morning. It is more impressive than the summary was, but the case against the transfer still seems to me to rest on the assumption that the coexistence of Governments in Calcutta worked well, whereas I have found no one out here to say so. The case against the re-partition is much more convincing than that against the change of capitals.
In this connection the other civilian I met was very interesting. He told me that in 1903 the Civil Servants all advised this partition ; he saw the papers which went round, but the Government of India overruled them all because it wanted to give the Mohammedans a show of their own. When the Bengalis began agitating he spent two years in putting down their sedition, and twice had his life attempted, after which, as he said, it seemed so silly to find you'd been shot at for nothing. He thought the reversal had done mischief because it was patent that had there been no agitation there would have been no reversal, so that inevitably next time the Bengalis want something reversed they will expect to get it by agitating and bomb-throwing. He thought the removal of the capital good in itself, but it had created a bad impression because it was being said that the viceroy had run away from the agitators of Calcutta.
He went on to say that the Bengalis were so plausible that it took most Viceroys about four years to find them out, and then they had to go home. What he most feared was that " one day some fool will come out from England and give 'em simultaneous examinations," which he said would result in flooding the Civil Service with Indians, (a) because most Indians are very good crammers and the Indian Civil Service is a cram exam., (b) because those who weren't would buy copies of the papers beforehand, a thing which it would be impossible to stop once the papers were in India. Once the Indian Civil Service is preponderatingly native, our system must break down, because no native really either understands it or sympathizes with it. There is the Indian way of administering a State, as worked in the Native States ; and it works well, though not according to our ideas. Alternatively there is our way, but our way run by natives ends in speedy chaos. It is bad enough at present when the subordinates are natives ; the system breaks down as soon as the Englishman takes his eye off.
As an example he told me his experience of Bengali Babu subordinates in the famine camps of 1893-4. In those days natives only came to the famine camps when they were literally starving, and they got corn there, either cheap or free according to circumstances. He found that if he took a day off from going round the camps, the deaths on that day would rise by between two hundred and three hundred, and if he left out one camp, the deaths there would rise by twenty or thirty. The reason was that the Babu camp officers always withheld the corn until he was sighted, and if he didn't come they doled out no, corn till evening, so that twenty or thirty men might die ; whereupon they entered those twenty or thirty as having received corn, and pocketed the price of it, about 3d. per death.. This they did without winking, and when he discovered it he had to ride thirty miles every day round ten camps to make sure the men were fed. He took a horse-whip, and if he found the men hadn't been fed at the proper time, he used it : in famine time the Government let the collectors be drastic. If these Babus are the men who would get control of our administration, of course they would soon drive every Englishman out of it.
I left Darjeeling yesterday afternoon. One has to cross the Ganges in a boat ; it is about a mile wide, but not a bit pretty. There were a lot of porpoises playing in it, which surprised me. In flood-time it is about three miles wide. We crossed at six in the morning, and got here soon after ten.
I leave this evening for Benares.