Tour Of India - The South Mahratta Country
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE SOUTH MAHRATTA COUNTRY : GOA Bijapur—The S.M.C.—The Londa-Mormugao railway—Goa—A Town Council at work—Pan-Islamism—Hindu metaphysics—Sugar-crushing—Hindu morals.
January 31, 1912, PAN JIM (NEW GOA), PORTUGUESE INDIA. - I started off from Ahmednagar on Thursday, the 25th, at i a.m., and after twelve hours of beastly trains arrived at Bijapur about one o'clock. Bijapur is now nearly deserted, but for two hundred years it was one of the most important towns in India. An enterprising Mohammedan governor of it revolted from the old kings of the Deccan and made himself independent in 1489. It soon became the most powerful State in South India. Goa belonged to it when the Portuguese came in 1510 ; and in 1565 it wiped out its only serious Hindu rival, the Rajah of Vijayanagar (of whom more next week). For a hundred years the King of Bijapur was top dog, but in 1686 he was overthrown by Aurangzeb, being the last great victim of the Moghuls.
The relics of Bijapur's greatness are an extraordinary number of very good buildings, just missing the first rank of all. But I have seen no town with so many separate fine buildings : there were about thirty mosques, tombs, and palaces. The sight of the place is the tomb of King Mohammad Adil Shah ; it is called the Gol Gumbaz. It is " the Taj of South India," but toto caelo different. It is quite plain and uniquely massive. The dome is only twelve feet less in diameter than the dome of S. Peter's, and the domed space inside is the largest in the world. It looks it, too, when you get inside. The architecture of it is a wonder, as Fergusson explains at length : but one has to see it to grasp what he means, I think. There were a lot of swallows hawking flies high up in the dome, looking clean out of shot.
From Bijapur I went south, through the South Deccan country, the same rolling flats as near Ahmednagar, but more uniformly fertile—a great cotton country. The Deccan extends roughly as far as a line drawn from Goa to Madras : south of that is the Carnatic. The South Mahratta railway is so primitive as to be rather comfortable : for instance, it runs on wood-fuel, which makes no smuts, though it sometimes fails to boil the water.
I stopped from Friday to Monday at a town in this district. My host there has been for years on its municipal council, and told me about its working. If I have time and energy left I will write to you about it.
The number of Christians there is very small, about one hundred and seventy, but they are all caste-people, of various castes and I dare say they will make a better nucleus than the thousands of Mahar Christians in the North Deccan. Their whole tone is certainly higher.
Jim had told the people down here that I wanted to go to Goa, so the chaplain of Dharwar very kindly arranged to take me there. Dharwar is the southernmost collectorate of Bombay Presidency, and the chaplain there has Goa for one of his out-stations. So he combined an official visit with escorting me there, and I joined him at Dharwar on Monday evening.
On Tuesday morning we set forth for Goa, the padre and I. Soon after leaving Dharwar the country became jungly and got progressively wilder and denser. At first it was like bush-veld ; then there appeared a lovely fern-like bamboo or rather it was like a giant asparagus, fifty feet high and growing in great clumps and this bamboo gradually ousted everything else till the whole jungle was one forest of it, a most lovely sight. Then it became denser again, with bamboos interspersed and towering.
After passing Londa, at twelve o'clock we came to the Ghats, which, as I told you the other week, run right down the west coast of India. It took us three hours to get down them, and the scenery was magnificent—alpine in contour and tropical in vegetation. A wealth of .green forest trees covered the great hills from top to bottom, except where the rock was precipitous, and as the train wound in and out, over ravines and spurs, past waterfalls (now small, in the rains torrential) and over viaducts, one saw the long line of Ghats stretching like an irregular rampart for miles and miles, till the green became palest blue and was lost in the haze.
When we reached the bottom we were in Portuguese territory and only forty miles from Goa. These last forty miles were almost as lovely as the Ghats, which formed their background. First, the bamboos began again, but in greater variety, the most prominent being of the same type as one sees at home, but grown into great bushy clumps fifty feet high. These were gradually succeeded by palms, which for the last twenty miles monopolized the scene great tall waving coco-nut-palms, most brilliantly green, now in dense groves seventy feet high, now lined in giant hedge-rows, like French poplars, round the even brighter rice-fields, now banked up the slopes which framed the winding creeks and rivers that became more and more frequent as we approached the sea.
We reached Mormugao, the railhead, at sunset, and proceeded to. this place by steamer. Goa is an island between the mouths of two rivers. The harbourage on either side is magnificent, except during the south-west monsoon, when Mormugao alone is sheltered but the river silt has made a bar that is only passable at high tide.
What the possibilities of the place are I don't know. The Portuguese are hopeless slacksters. The railway to Mormugao is entirely a British concern, and we even have to run the telegraph for them.
The history of Goa is most thrilling. After Vasco da Gama's voyage, the Portuguese at first only opened factories in native cities Calicut, Cochin, and Quilon ; but when Albuquerque came out in 1509 he saw that these factories, even backed by forts, existed only on sufferance, which Arab jealousy made precarious. He therefore decided to annex a base, and chose Goa, which belonged to the King of Bijapur, two hundred miles inland. So he took it, after desperate fights and adventures, and it soon became the richest city in India, with magnificent churches.
Then the Dutch beat and ruined the Portuguese the site proved pestilential, and so the city was gradually deserted and the jungle swallowed every-thing but the churches. These have remained splendid and rich ; and the pilgrimage to the tomb of S. Francis Xavier is made by Indians of all religions. Now the final blow has fallen the Republicans have confiscated the churches and all Church property. The decree doing so has for the moment been suspended, so there may be a chance yet. Otherwise, the churches must go to ruin. As a crowning piece of villainy, the whole of the pilgrims' offerings made at the great exposition of S. Francis's body in 1910, and amounting to Rs. 30,000, has been confiscated and pocketed by the new Governor !
The Goanese are all keen Catholics, and the result of the Republican outrages is that there is a movement among them in favour of going over to England. The natives, too, inland, dislike the Portuguese rule, which means heavy taxes, corruption, and neglect. Our guide to-day spoke of it (i.e., of transference to British rule) with enthusiasm ; but the people are so inert that I'm afraid they won't strike. For our part, we should much like to have Goa, which is the Delagoa Bay of the Deccan. All the Deccan cotton, etc., ought to be shipped at Mormugao ; but Portuguese sloth prevents our developing the place—they won't dredge the bar, and so on. Besides, the place is a nest of salt-smugglers.
We drove over today and saw old Goa. The situation is lovely, on a rise in a palm forest over-looking a silvery creek which winds back towards the distant grey-blue Ghats.
The place is dead, silent and deserted the forest has closed in all around it, and when we came there was no sign of life except the chanting of the Mass in the cathedral—the one church still used. Beyond the canons, there is no population whatever. One of them showed us the Born Jesus Church and S. Francis's tomb. There are three other huge sixteenth and seventeenth century churches, with magnificently garish reredoses of gold, a most wonderful sight in the setting visible and remembered.
There is a museum there with relics of Vasco da Gama, Albuquerque, and the rest, in the middle of which have been stuck a ludicrous stuffed Mercury and a red-capped female labelled Republica, both only fit for November 5th.
Coming back, I could not get stamps here because there is a public holiday to celebrate the anniversary of, as far as I can make out, the assassination of King Carlos, and the place is officially lit up tonight ; the people don't seem at all keen about it, though.
The climate here is the limit of relaxing ; it has been about ninety day and night, and as damp as a steam laundry—a great fever-hole, swarming with mosquitoes.
I must stop now, as it is past ten, and I have to start at six to-morrow for Madras. I hope to stop one night en route at Vijayanagar, the dead capital of the Hindu kingdom I mentioned just now.
February 2, 5 a.m., IN TRAIN, DHARWAR.-I will take this opportunity of telling you about the Town Council of that place I was staying at last week. It is a wholly undistinguished city of 30,000 inhabitants, which lives on cotton-jenning. For the past twenty years or so it has had municipal self-government. The Council is elected by all payers of two rupees in taxes, and it administers the town's revenue of Rs. 6o,000 (4,000), and is supposed to do all the things an English municipality does.
My host there has been on this Municipal Council for years and years, and told me a lot about its working. He says that it has undoubtedly been a failure so far. It is always incompetent and generally corrupt. Few Indians seem to have a glimmering of the idea of disinterested public service. They go in for politics purely to see what they can get out of it, either in cash or in advertisement estimable in terms of cash. This makes the elections naturally corrupt, and when a man has been elected he has no sense of either duty or responsibility. Consequently, he doesn't turn up at council meetings unless something lucrative is on, and there is often no quorum. When there is one, nothing is considered on its merits, but always in the light of the particular axes to be ground.
The result is endless insincere discussion and obstruction, and nothing is done. Into this comes also the deep-rooted Indian dislike of taking responsibility. Even where no corrupt motive is working, they won't make a definite decision if they can possibly help it. If they are driven to do so, it is probably never carried out, as they have no executive officer, and won't create one for fear of lessening their own power. Finally, if an enter-prising man does by great efforts get the council to move, his reforms are likely to be indefinitely hung up owing to governmental red-tape and over-centralization.
The roads, sanitation, etc., of the place were very primitive, and my host told me he had been -ceaselessly struggling for elementary reforms, but unless he could see a thing through from start to finish himself, it never got done ; and they don't often let him do that. He told me several stories to illustrate this, and I will give you two of them as examples.
The first is this. There are practically no w.c.'s or any equivalent in the town, so he started a scheme to buy a field outside the town and install a " trench system." The native doesn't mind walking half a mile every morning : it is quite a common plan. Of course, intrigues at once began about the buying of the field, and the first thing they did was to exclude my host from the committee appointed to deal with his scheme. So he had to correspond with this committee to get anything done. After nearly a year he got them to agree on the field he wanted. Then the P.W.D. Engineer had to be got hold of to sanction it, and it was another six months before he could be induced to come and look at it. When he came, the committee showed him the wrong field, and he reported it as unsuitable. It took six months more to rectify this " error," and then the engineer wrote to ask if the right field was for sale, and they said it wasn't, when it was.
After months more the engineer was got to come and see the right field, but by this time there was a new engineer, who disliked the trench system ; so the whole scheme was remitted to the committee for reconsideration. They are still reconsidering it, and so, in spite of my host's efforts, after six years of agitation, the people still use the streets for these unsavoury purposes.
The other case was the building of a school. This had been discussed for five years and once looked like getting through, only the Director of Public Instruction in Bombay ordered new plans with differently shaped windows, and this gave the obstructionists their chance. There is no school yet.
Altogether my host gets little thanks for his services. They think him a nuisance, but they find him so necessary that they always re-elect him. In fact, it is only he, so another man told me, that has kept the place solvent. At Dharwar, a similar town, they said just the same : but there, there is no Englishman to keep it going and the municipality has been suspended at least once. This has repeatedly to be done, and that fact in itself shows that Lord Ripon's policy is not quite a success. It is a great pity, as I don't see how the Indians can become fit for political self-government if they make such a hash of municipal affairs. However, it's no use blinking the facts, and if this instance is as typical of all India as it seems to be of the Deccan (I have heard no two opinions about it and a native councillor himself told me it was a farce), it is no use thinking of trusting Indians with more important powers until they show themselves fit to exercise these.
You ask for continuous news about Bengal, but I have been farther from informed opinion than you have. People here ask me what I know. If I hear anything in Madras I will let you know,
This part of India is much more primitive than the north—fewer trains, no hotels, hardly any one who speaks English, and very few European shops.
What is much more curious is that Peer Mahommed (my servant) clearly feels himself an entire foreigner here. He has an unbounded con-tempt for all the people, even the Mohammedans. " They not knowing Mohammedan 'lijin—bad peoples," as he puts it he doesn't speak Kanarese, and very few people hereabouts speak Hindustani ; and he has to cook all his own food. He is far more a compatriot of the Mohammedans of Persia and Syria than of the South Indians. He told me that if it hadn't been for his wife he would have settled at Jerusalem when he was there, and did not seem to regard it at all as being abroad and he spoke of Arabia in the same way, but he'd sooner die than settle here. He also asks me at intervals for news of the war in Tripoli, which all shows the strength of the Pan-Islamic sentiment as transcending " national " distinctions. I heard an Indian Judge at Delhi criticizing the proposed Moslem University on that ground ; he said it would be a centre of political intrigue. Already (he said) Turks and Persians foregather at Aligarh, where there is a Mohammedan College, and preach a cosmopolitan Pan-Islamism. Of course, the Judge was a Hindu, but he also denounced the proposed Hindu University, as he declared it was a machination of the reactionary Brahmans.
My last host was an authority on Hindu philosophy, and I left feeling rather faint. As Hegel is to Hodge, so is Hinduism to any other philosophy I've come across. Apparently it is consistent with Hinduism to be either a Theist or an Atheist or a Polytheist or a Pantheist. The only dogmas which are really fixed seem to be transmigration of souls and maya, i.e., that all existence is illusion, a kind of disease of the Absolute. Not only is all experience illusion, but the experiencing soul is an illusion too. And if you ask (I don't advise you to) how the experiencing soul, being a reflection of the Absolute, can be the victim of illusion, they reply that illusion itself is an illusion. After which you fetch the keeper.
The serious part of it is that metaphysics isn't confined to a few harmless dons, but permeates, to the proletariat. I went to call the other day on a native municipal councillor, and found in his courtyard a beggar singing lugubriously to a mandolin accompaniment, and was told he was a Vedantist who had once been a Mohammedan, but had now left his wife and family, feeling it his vocation to sing the praises of the Absolute, which must be a little difficult, since I always understood the Absolute has no attributes.
It isn't surprising that such people are incompetent at mere business. I went out on Sunday to see a sugar farm. Sugar is a very lucrative crop ; it makes a profit of Rs. 100 per acre. But it was all very primitive. The canes were crushed between rollers worked by four oxen, and the juice was boiled down to gill (Anglice toffee) in a big and dirty pan in the open air. The Government has established experimental farms to demonstrate improved methods ; but the cultivators won't take the trouble to go and see them. So the Government has to send instructors to the cultivators, and we went over on the occasion of an instructor's visit to this farm. The most notable improvements he was inculcating were (I) how a saving of a hundred per cent. in fuel was possible by substituting an oven-furnace for an open bonfire, and (2) how an increase of a hundred per cent. in the price of the 100 was obtainable by skimming off the filth before pouring it into the moulds. We hadn't been there five minutes before we suggested several equally subtle improvements, as any white man would have had to. For instance, the juice from the crushers was laboriously carried in pails to a big tub, and thence again baled out to take it to the cauldron or pan when that was ready for it. The crushers were cleverly placed on lower ground than the tub, and the tub than the cauldron. If they had been vice versa the juice would have flowed through pipes of itself, and much labour and fingering would have been saved. But when we gently pointed this out to the owner he only smiled blandly and answered, " Ah, yes ; but it will take time."
On the way here yesterday my host told me some lurid details about Hindu morals. Two of the few repeatable facts were that hardly any Hindu man keeps straight before marriage, and most of the well-to-do keep concubines afterwards. And they aren't a bit ashamed, he said of—well, practices which Juvenal would stickle at recording. In fact, many of them have religious sanction, or can be so excused. At the festival humorously called Holi " it is obligatory to say obscene things and meritorious to do them." And though the Brahmans sonorously preach morality, they are whited sepulchres of the most baneful type. In all these matters he declared the Christians were vastly better (I should hope they were !)—in fact, above the European standard, because their religion makes them ashamed of what their environment rubs in.
It's beginning to get hot here. I'm told that in Sindh in the hot weather they carry a coffin on every train !