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Good Words 1860
Aspects of Indian Life during the Rebellion


(Continued from p. 253.)

II. CALCUTTA TO CAWNPORE AND LUCKNOW.

We left Mr Russell preparing to start for the army head-quarters. The first 120 miles of his journey, as far as Raneegunj, are by rail, when he is "shot out amid a heap of cindera and a wooden station." From thence he has to proceed, not by anything in the shape of a stage-coach, but by a post vehicle called a "gharry," a mere wooden box on four wheels, large enough for the traveller to make his bed in it. The stages are about five miles long, with government halting-places ("dawk bungalows") from time to time, the charge for the use of which is one shilling to each traveller while he halts; yet, "small as the amount is, there are frequent attempts to evade it." By native trickery, think you? By no means. "These buildings, though in theory open to all, are in practice and reality reserved almost exclusively for Europeans. I never yet met a native gentleman stopping in one. I have looked over the registries of many, and found, perhaps in half-a-dozen instances in the space of a year, the name of an Anglicised baboo, or Parsee merchant, or native prince, inscribed therein. No ! these and all such government works are for the white man and not for the black.....There would be as much indignation experienced at any attempt on the part of natives to use the stageing bungalows as there is now expressed by some Europeans in Calcutta at their audacity in intruding upon 'ladies and gentlemen' in first-class carriages."

As he approaches "the sacred city of Benares, the mass of people on the trunk-road gives one the impression of a fair or procession." They are in small groups or large parties, men, old and young, children and women; the young men "broad-chested, straight, muscular," the old "bowed, and feeble, and thin exceedingly." "In no instance is a friendly glance directed to the white man's carriage. Oh ! that language of the eye! Who can doubt—who can misinterpret it? It is by it alone that I have learned our race is not even feared at times by many, and that by all it is disliked.....These passers-by are wondrously squalid, and poorly clad. But already I have been told I must not judge from appearances in India. The climate does not demand the use of clothes. . . . But I see a native 'swell' pass me in a kind of tray placed upon a bamboo framework, and he is dressed in shawls, and wrapped in profuse clothes. That signifies little. 'Those fellows like to shew how rich they are by sporting fine cashmeres and gold embroidery.' 'Then when men are rich they dress well, and nakedness and rags are a sign of poverty?' ' My dear sir, you are a griff; you don't understand those niggers yet.' "...

He next reaches Allahabad, a fort " worthy of the best days of the great Mohammedan conquerors and rulers of India;" "a massive face of rich red solid masonry," towering up from the waters of the Jumna and Granges—the fort and city both "bestowed on us in times not beyond the memory of living man, by the ancestor of one" [the King of Delhi] "who is now captive in our prisons;" and yet so essential to our existence in India, that during the rebellion our empire had been for the moment lost without it; and was indeed saved here, "by no act of government, by no care of man, but by one of those extraordinary developments of accidental ability and energy in unlooked-for and unexpected places, which are called interventions of Providence."

From Allahabad, after another interview with Lord Canning, who had himself come up thus far, Mr Russell proceeds, by another strip of railway, sixty-five miles long, in the direction of Cawnpore, the rail ceasing "in the sand," at a place called Khaga. Here occurs a picture of Anglo-Indian official life-on-the-tramp of the old days, which cannot be omitted. "A luxurious little baby was carried forth for a walk under the shade of the trees; it was borne in the arms of a fat ayah" (nurse), "beside whom walked a man, whose sole business it was gently to whisk away the flies which might venture to disturb baby's slumbers. Another man wheeled a small carriage, in which lay another little lord of the Indian creation, asleep, likewise with his human flapper by his side, whilst two ayahs followed the procession in rear; through the open door of the tent could be seen the lady-mother reading for her husband; a native servant fanned her with a hand-punkah; two little terriers chained to a tree were under the care of a separate domestic. A cook was busy superintending several pots set upon fires in the open air, a second prepared the curry-paste, a third was busy with plates, knives, and forks. In the rear of the servants' tents, which were two in number—making, with the master's, four—were two small tents for the syces" (grooms), "grass-cutters, and camel men, . . . behind which were picketed three horses, three camels, and a pair of bullocks, and ere we left another servant drove in a few goats, which were used for milking. I was curious to know who this millionaire could be, and was astonished to learn that it was only Captain Smith, of the Mekawattie Irregulars, who was travelling down country, with the usual train of domestics and animals required under the circumstances. The whole of this little camp did not contain more than eight or nine tents, but there were at least 150 domestics and a menagerie of animals connected with them." But all around the native villages "seemed especially wretched," whilst "the natives we met avoided us, skulking off by side-paths; and one or two women, drawing water at a well, fled at our approach, as if we were demons."

He proceeds now, by gharry again, to Cawnpore, over a road "which many of the trees had been hung with natives' bodies as the column under Neill and Renaud marched to open the way from Allahabad." At Cawnpore he sees Sir Colin, who enters with him into that most judicious compact, by which the Times' correspondent was to have all the Commander-in-chief's information, on the sole condition of not letting it be known in any way except in his letters to Europe. He joins the head-quarters' staff mess, and receives authority to make application for whatever he may require for the use of his tent. He now takes. his first view of Indian military life. In the town again he is "struck by the scowling, hostile look of the people. The bunniahs" (merchants) "bow with their necks, and salaam with their hands, but not with their eyes."

"You find, by degrees, that an Indian station consists of two parts—the cantonments of the Europeans, the native city and bazaar. The west and the east end are far apart, separated by a waste common, or by fields, or gardens.....The west rules, collects taxes, gives balls, drives carriages, attends races, goes to church, improves its roads, builds its theatres, forms its masonic lodges, holds cut-cherry "(court)," and drinks its pale ale. The east pays taxes in the shape of what it eats grown on taxed land, grumbles, propagates, squabbles, sits in its decaying temples, haunts its rotting shrines, washes in its failing tanks, and drinks its semi-putrid water. Between the two there is a great gulf fixed; to bridge it over is the work reserved for him who shall come to stabilitate our empire in the East, if ever he comes at all. The European station is laid out in large rectangles, formed by wide roads. The native city is an aggregate of houses perforated by tortuous paths, so that a plan of it would resemble a section of worm-eaten wood. The Europeans live in detached houses, each surrounded by walls inclosing large gardens, lawns, out-offices. The natives live packed in squeezed-up tenements, kept from falling to pieces by mutual pressure. The handful of Europeans occupy four times the space of the city which contains tens of thousands of Hindoos and Mussulmans. The sole mark of the rule of the former which exists in the latter, is apparently a large native house, from the top of which floats a flag, and in front of which is a group of natives in blue cotton tunics, with red piping, and tulwars" (broadswords) "by their sides. They are the police, and the house is the kotwaiee, or residence and office of the native mayor or kotwal. The Russianised air of our stations particularly strikes me; and from what I can hear of the Muscovite cantonments in Georgia, they must, in actual form, and in their social relations, be very like our own in India. But there is this great dissimilarity in the latter and in the former case, that the Georgians are Christianised and Russianised this many a long year. "'Whose buggy is that, preceded by two native troopers, and followed by five or six armed natives running on foot?' 'That is the magistrate and collector.' 'What does he do?' ' He sits in cutcherry to settle civil cases, and collects the revenue, and adjusts matters connected with the civil administration of the province, for it is one confided to his control. He is the burra sahib, or big man, of the station.'

"'Who is that in the smart gharry, with servants in livery?' 'That is the chaplain of the station, who marries, and baptizes, and performs service for the Europeans.' 'Does he go among the natives?' 'Not he; he leaves that to the missionaries, of whom there are lots here; but he has a school, which children may attend or not, as they please; and he is a very good chaplain, and very much liked and respected.'

"'Well; and who comes next along the drive in that very smart buggy, with the bay mare?' ' That is the doctor of the station. He attends the sick Europeans. He also gets, under certain circumstances, head-money for every native soldier in garrison.' 'Does he attend them?' 'I should think not! Why, how on earth could he attend a lot of niggers?' 'But why is he paid for them?' 'Ah! that is another matter. You must understand our system a little better before you can comprehend things of this sort.'

"'Who is this jolly-looking fellow on the gray Arab?' ' That is the judge of the station, a very good fellow. All judges are rather slow coaches, you know. They do the criminal business, and it is not much matter if they make mistakes, as they don't meddle with Europeans. When they can do nothing else with a fellow in the civil service, they make him a judge.'

"Next to my griffinish wonder at the want of white faces, has been my regret to perceive the utter absence of any friendly relations between the white and the black faces when they are together. Here comes a trooper—a tall, fine old fellow, with face as fair as that of many a sunburnt soldier from England. He carries a despatch for the Lord Sahib—he has ridden with it fifty miles, through a country full of rebels. The old Sikh asks for the tent of the chief; he dismounts, sticks his lance in the ground, fastens his panting horse to it, and stalks in his long leather boots .... through the camp. It is ten to one if a soul notices him; and if he goes to a wrong tent, he is saluted with an adjuration, and a request to go to a place far beyond the limits of the camp, by the angry young gentleman who has been disturbed in his 'Pendennis,' or in the contemplation of a fine ' ash. The old soldier will follow his own sahib to the last; but for strange sahibs he has not much regard, and he thinks it their nature to be rough and rude, and so he shuffles forth on his cruise, looking hopelessly about .... till some kind mortal compassionates his distress. What is the old trooper's revenge? Why, he sticks in our service, saving up money and remitting it to his family; retires on his pension; and then, when his last hour is near, his last act is to try and get his name 'scratched,' so that he may not die in the service of the stranger.

"Of course there are many exceptions, or rather these cases of discourtesy were the large exceptions to the rule in dealing with the natives. Some of our officers appear to possess their confidence to a most extraordinary extent. I say appear, because, after what has happened, few can be sure of the feelings of these men. Look at the domestic servants in camp; the tones in which they are spoken to have rarely one note of kindness, often many of anger in them. Look at the box-wallahs "(pedlars)" who come round with all kinds of nick-nacks, stationery, perfumery, and such things, and see how hard it is to bear the cruel and unmeaning practical jokes to which they are exposed, by men who have ceased many years ago to be school-boys. Our camp is full of significant, if small, indications of a mocking and unsympathising spirit, which, no doubt, the native reciprocates. There is no such enemy to a black skin as your Anglo-Saxon who has done so much for liberty.....It may be that the native is more to blame for the gulf between us than we are; for his religion digs it deep. He will walk with us, talk with us; but, like Shyloek, he will not eat with us, drink with us, or pray with us. Still, there is no Curtius's spirit among us to leap into the chasm. How unlike all this up-country life is to Calcutta, where I was asked to dine with a large party at a rajah's, and where the wealth of the natives, and the long denationalisation of the Europeans, smooth the way to larger and more Fiberal relations between them!"

Do we recollect how, at Calcutta, the writer was struck by the separation between natives and Europeans—by the insulting arrogance of race on the part of the white man towards the black ? What must be the state of things around him now, when on these very points he is impressed by the unlikeness of the scene to Calcutta!

But is such a state of things passing away? Quite the contrary. Through the greater facility of communication with England, Englishmen in India "acquire less of the habits of the country, and retain more of those of their own. They spend less money; for they look forward to enjoying themselves on a lengthened leave in England, or in accumulating comfortable additions to their pensions." In one respect the change has been the result of improved morality. "The race of Eurasians is not so freely supplied with recruits. It is now very rare and shameful for an officer, civil or military, to live in a state which was normal last generation. The mode of building bungalows has altered. There is now no beebee's" (native mistress's) "house." It is true that "there are now European rivals to these ladies at some stations;" but society taboos those who entertain them. "Instead of inclining to settle in India, the number of those who fix themselves for the rest of their days in some pleasant, 'sunny' angle of Bengal is diminishing." And as the old days of Cawnpore gaieties are recalled by eye-witnesses, the traveller "is tempted to ask if there is not some lesson and some warning-given to our race in reference to India by the tremendous catastrophe of Cawnpore. How are we to prevent its recurrence? I am deeply impressed," he says, "by the difficulty of governing India, as it is now governed, by force, exercised by a few who are obliged to employ natives as the instruments of coercion. That force is the base of our rule, I have no doubt; for I see nothing else but force employed in our relations with the governed. The efforts to improve the condition of the people are made by bodies or individuals who have no connexion with the government. The action of the government in matters of improvement is only excited by considerations of revenue. Does it, as the great instructor of the people, the exponent of our superior morality and civilisation, —does it observe treaties, shew itself moderate, and just, and regardless of gain? Are not our courts of law condemned by ourselves? Are they not admitted to be a curse and a blight upon the country? In effect, the grave, unhappy doubt which settles on my mind is, whether India is the better for our rule, so far as regards the social condition of the people. We have put down widow-burning, we have sought to check infanticide; but I have travelled hundreds of miles through a country peopled with beggars and covered with wigwam villages."

At Cawnpore he remains from February 12 to February 27, and views the painfully-interesting memorials of the most heroic resistance and the most atrocious massacre of the rebellion; one, indeed, of which the horror has been greatly exaggerated, since it is now pretty generally admitted that no dishonour was offered to women; and it is at least "clearly established that the writing behind the door, on the walls of the slaughter-house, on which so much stress was laid in Calcutta, did not exist when Havelock entered the place, and therefore was not the work of any of the poor victims;" but which ought to have been sufficient, as Mr Russell rightly urges, to make us abandon the place as a military station. The engineers are pulling down or blowing up temples for military purposes, whilst the worshippers look on apparently unmoved; "only one thing proves the people don't like our proceedings; they steal away at night, and it is difficult to procure labourers for the works." He is anxious to leave a region where "everything is blighted, burnt, and ruined. There are no courts to see, no schools, no intercourse between the people and the authorities, except such as spies conduct, or the ruder relations of justice and punishment, which are surely very unedifying." It is indeed "horrible to be engaged in such a war. "Wherever the rebels meet a Christian, or a white man, they at once slay him pitilessly. The natives who conceal these do so at their peril. Wherever we meet a rebel in arms, or any man on whom suspicion rests, we kill him with equal celerity, and without any greater shew of pity.....When Neill marched from Allahabad, his executions were so numerous and indiscriminate, that one of the officers attached to his column had to remonstrate with him on the ground that, if he depopulated the country, he could get no supplies for the men." Others have emulated his severity. The same tale is related, further on, of Renaud, whose column marched in advance of Havelock's force." In two days forty-two men were hanged on the road side; and a batch of twelve men were executed, because their faces were 'turned the wrong way' when they were met on the march. All the villages in his front were burned when he halted. These 'severities' could not have been justified by the Cawnpore massacre, because they took place before that diabolical act." Elsewhere, officers coming through the country have come upon groves "full of rotting corpses, which indicated the places where the Special Commissioners had been executing justice." "All the country, they said, was disaffected; but the Indian agricultural population do not join in the conflicts of the armed classes, and accept the rule of the conquerors passively."

Into Oude is the writer's next journey—Oude, the sacred land of Hindooism—Oude, the garden of India —Oude, Lord Dalhousie's latest annexation, accomplished without a blow.

"It was in the Crimea," writes Mr Russell, "I first heard of the annexation of Oude, which was represented not only as an act of the highest political wisdom, but also as a political necessity. Now, near the spot, I hear wise men doubt the wisdom, and see them shake their heads when one talks of the necessity of the annexation. The ex-king, who is in captivity at Calcutta, has acted with a firmness which one could not have expected from a mere sensualist, as he was said to be, half idiotic, and entirely base. I am told that his conduct at the time of the annexation astonished our officers; that it was characterised by dignity and propriety. Up to this moment he has neither consented to his deposition, nor taken one shilling of the annuity which the Company settled on him, [He has since accepted it.] nor has he given the least ground for believing that he has participated in the mutiny and rebellion." And yet, already at Calcutta, Mr Russell had learnt " that the menagerie of the King of Oude, as much his private property as his watch or turban, was sold under discreditable circumstances, and his jewels seized and impounded, though we had no more claim on them than on the crown diamonds of Russia.

"The great bulk of the Sepoy army," he writes, further on, "is supposed to be inside Lucknow; but they will not fight so well as the matchlock-men of Oude, who have followed their chiefs to maintain the cause of their young king, Brijeis Kuddr .... and who may fairly be regarded as engaged in a patriot war for their country and their sovereign.....The chiefs have sworn to be faithful to him. We affect to disbelieve his legitimacy; but the zemindars "(village squires)," who ought to be better judges of the facts, accept Brijeis Kuddr without hesitation.....

The begum (i. e., the mother of the young prince, one of the wives of the King of Oude) "declares undying war against us, and in the circumstances of the annexation of the kingdom, the apparent ingratitude to the family for money lent, and aid given at most critical times, has many grounds for her indignant rhetoric."

It was, therefore, in Oude, at all events, not a military mutiny, but a people in arms whom we had to quell. Mr Russell's description of the march thither is as picturesque as it is suggestive. "Our road lay in a straight, broad line of elevated causeway, just over the sands of the river-bed, .... and thence through a country as level as the sea," bearing the marks of high cultivation, and diversified by numerous topes, or large clumps of trees, so numerous, indeed, as to hem in the horizon all around with a framework of rich green foliage. As soon as we had advanced a few miles from the Ganges, not only the broad road, but the broad track at each side of it, was thronged by an immense and apparently illimitable procession of oxen, hackeries," (bullock-carts,) "horses, ponies, camp-followers on foot or riding, trains of stores, elephants, all plodding steadily along in the burning sun, under the umbrella of dense clouds of white dust. . , . All these men, women, and children, with high delight, were facing towards Lucknow, to aid the Feringhee" (European) "to overcome their brethren. .... These people carried all their household wealth with them. Their houses were their tents; their streets the camp-bazaar; their ruler the bazaar kot-wal" (native official in charge of the market); "their politics the rise and fall of rice, and such commodities; their fate that of the host they adhere to, like mussels on the side of a ship......Bred in camps, but unwarlike,—for ever behind guns, and never before them, .... most of these people are Hindoos from Bengal or the North-west provinces. Some are from Central India. There are not many Mussulmans, except as domestic servants; the huge-limbed Affghan, with his enormous turban and fair complexion, toils alongside his camel, which is laden with dried fruits; the Sikh, whose whiskers are turned up and tied in a knot on the top of his head, protects the precious hairs from the contamination of the dust by tying a handkerchief under his jaws, and is marching with a light, cat-like tread to join his comrades; the fat bun-niah hurries on in his bamboo-car to see his store-tent pitched, leaving his dependents to make the best of their way after him; the wives of the bunniahs sit straddle-legged on the tiniest of donkeys, with their toes almost touching the ground, several children in their arms and across their loins, and such a heap of bags and baggage, that all which may be seen of the creatures that carry them is a disconsolate face, long ears, a ragged, mangy tail, and four little black hoofs, bent outwards, with fetlocks quivering at every step; the shrewd-looking, slender Madrassee, in a turban of the grandest dimensions, and a suit of fine muslin or gaudy stuff, sits grinning and laughing with a select circle of his own set on 'master's elfent;'.... whole regiments of sinewy, hollow-thighed, lanky coolies, shuffle along under loads of chairs, tables, hampers of beer and wine, bazaar stores, or boxes slung from bamboo poles across their shoulders."

So the army proceeds towards Lucknow, and there I shall leave it for the present. But why is it that the scene which Mr Russell has just described has for us far more than the interest of the most vivid panorama—far more than the value of a leaf torn out from the ordinary history of warfare ? Surely for this—that it shews us how utterly dependent we are upon the natives of India, even for the means of suppressing a native rebellion. What would become of the European under that fiery sun, amid those clouds of dust, if he were compelled to be his own groom, cook, porter? Until now, the variety of race, religion, manners, language among the natives of India—-preventing the growth of any vivid feeling, of any feeling it would almost seem, of nationality—has provided us, in exchange for our money, with as many as we needed of these humble but necessary coadjutors. But the tie between us and them is clearly one of money alone; and it is one so accidental, so unnatural, that not only every misdeed of ours which may tend to beget a community of suffering or of anger, but every political or material improvement— improved means of communication, throwing the races more together—greater regularity of administration, impressing similarity of habits— increased material prosperity, drawing off the energies of the people into other channels—education that widens the mind, religion that uplifts it, must help to make that tie more brittle or more loose. For, think for one moment with what an intense and unspeakable loathing we, children of a free Christian country, should look upon those amongst us who devoted themselves to the service of a French or Russian invader!

No; England has no right to reckon on the services of India's sons to quell India's rebellions. She may accept them with fear and trembling before God, who places such means in her hands of doing that which of herself she could not do; but if she trusts to their aid, as she trusted but a little while back to her sepoy army, it will fail her surely, as that did. The sepoy mutiny has shaken once already our empire to its centre; but a camp-followers' mutiny, though it-should simply take the form of disappearance, would shake it to its base. The only fate possible for 100,000 Europeans, who should be simply left in India deserted and unhelped by the native millions, without ever a blow being struck against them, would be starvation, brain-fever, despair. J. M. L.


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