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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter III


How to get our crop—The "Dangurs"—Farm servants and their duties— Kassee Rai—Hoeing—Ploughing—"Oustennie"—Coolies at work— Sowing—Difficulties the plant has to contend with—Weeding.

Having now got our land, water, and buildings—which latter I will describe further on—-the next thing is to set to work to get our crop. Manufacture being finished, and the crop all cut by the beginning or middle of October, when the annual rains are over, it is of importance to have the lands dug up as early as possible, that the rich moisture, on which the successful cultivation of the crop mainly depends, may be secured before the hot west winds and strong sun of early spring lick it up.

Attached to every factory is a small settlement of labourers, belonging to a tribe of aborigines called Dangurs. These originally, I believe, came from Chota Nagpore, which seems to have been their primal home. They are a cheerful industrious race, have a distinct Lmguage of their own, and only intermarry with each other. Long ago, when there were no post carriages to the hills, and but few roads, the Dangurs were largely employed as dak runners, or postmen. Some few of them settled with their families on lands near the foot of the hills in Pumeah, and gradually others made their way northwards, until now there is scarcely a factory in Behar that has not its Dangur tola, or village.

The men are tractable, merry-hearted, and faithful. The women betray none of the exaggerated modesty which is characteristic of Hindoo women generally. They never turn aside and hide their faces as you pass, hut look up to you with a merry smile on their countenances, and exchange greetings with the utmost frankness. In a future chapter I may speak at greater length of the Dangurs; at present it suffices to say, that they form a sort of appanage to the factory, and are in fact treated as part of the permanent staff.

Each Dangur when he marries, gets some grass and bamboos from the factory to build a house, and a small plot of ground to serve as a garden, for which he pays a very small rent, or in many instances nothing at all. In return, he is always cn the spot ready for any factory work that may be going on, for which he has his daily wage. Some factories pay by the month, but the general custom is to charge for hoeing by piece-work, and during manufacture, when the work is constant, there is paid a monthly wage.

In the close foggy mornings of October and November, long before the sun is up, the Dangurs are hard at work in the Zeraats, turning up the soil with their koddites (a kind of cutting hoe), and you can often hear their merry voices rising through the mist, as they crack jokes with each other to enliven their work, or troll one of their quaint native ditties.

They are presided over by a "mate," generally one of the oldest men and first settlers in the village. If he has had a large family, his sons look up to him, and his sons-in-law obey his orders with the utmost fealty. The "mate" settles all disputes, presents all grievances to the sahib, and all orders are given through him.

The indigo stubble which has been left in the ground is perhaps about a foot high, and as they cut it out, their wives and children come to gather up the sticks for fuel, and this of course also helps to clean the land. By eleven o'clock, when the sluggish mist has been dissipated by the rays of the scorching sun, the day's labour is nearly concluded. You will then see the swarthy Dangur, with his favourite child on his shoulder, wending his way back to his hut.

followed by his comely wife carrying his hoe, and a tribe of little ones bringing up the rear, each carrying bundles of the indigo stubble which the industrious father has dug up during the early hours of morning.

In the afternoon out comes the hengha, which is simply a heavy flat log of wood, with a Y-shaped cut or groove all along under its flat surface. To each end of the hengha a pair of bullocks are yoked, and two men standing on the log, and holding on by the bullocks' tails, it is slowly dragged over the field wherever the hoeing has been going on. The lumps and clods are caught in the groove on the under surface, and dragged along and broken up and pulverized, and the whole surface of the field thus gets harrowed down, and forms a homogeneous mass of light friable soil, covering the weeds and dirt to let them rot, exposing the least surface for the wind and heat to act- on, and thus keeping the moisture in the soil.

Now is a busy time for the planter. Up early in the cold raw fog, he is over his Zeraats long before dawn, and round by his outlying villages to see the ryots at work in their fields. To each eighty or a hundred acres a man is attached called a Tokedar. His duty is to rouse out the ryots, see the hoes and ploughs at work, get the weeding done, and be responsible for the state of the cultivation generally. He will probably have two villages under him. If the village with its lands be very extensive, of course there will be a Tokedar for it alone, but frequently a Tokedar may have two or more villages under his charge. In the village, the head man— generally the most influential man in the community—also acts with the Tokedar, helping him to get ploughs, bullocks and coolies when these are wanted; and under him, the village chowkeydar, or watchman, sees that stray cattle do not get into the fields, that the roads, bridges and fences are not damaged, and so on. Over the Tokedars, again, are Zillalidars. A "zillah" is a small district. There may be eight or ten "villages and three or four Tukedars under a Zillahdar. The Zillahdar looks out for good lands to change for had ones, where this is necessary, and where no objection is made by the farmer; sees that the Tokedars do their work properly; reports rain, blight, locusts, and other visitations that might injure the cropj watches all that goes on in his zillah, and makes his report to the planter whenever anything of importance happens in his particular part of the cultivation. Over all again comes the Jemadar—the head man over the whole cultivation—the planter's right-hand man.

He is generally an old, experienced, and trusted servant. He knows all the lands for miles round, ami the peculiar soils and products of all the villages far and near. He can tell what lands grow the best tobacco, what lands are free from inundation, what free from drought; the temper of the inhabitants of each village, and the history of each farm; where are the best ploughs, the best bullocks, and the best farming: in what villages you get most coolies for weeding; where you can get the best carts, the best straw, and the best of everything at the most favourable rates. He comes up each night when the day's work is done, and gets his orders fur the morrow. You are often glad to take his advice on sowing, reaping, and other operations of the farm. He knows where the plant will ripen earliest, and where the leaf will be thickest, and to him you look for satisfaction if any screw gets loose in the outside farm-work.

He generally accompanies you in your morning ride, shows you your new lands, consults with you about throwing up exhausted fields, and is generally a sort of form-bailiff or confidential land-steward. Where he is an honest, intelligent, and loyal man, he takes half the care and work off your shoulders. Such men are however rare, and if not very closely looked after, they are apt to abuse their position, and often harass the ryots needlessly, looking more to the feathering of their own nests than the advancement of your interests.

The only Jemadar I felt I could thoroughly trust, was my first one at Pare wall, an old Rajpoot, called Kassee Rai. He was a fine, ruddy-faced, white-haired old man, as independent anil straightforward an old farmer as you could meet anywhere, and I never had reason to regret taking his advice on any matter. I never found him out in a lie, or in a dishonest or underhand action. Though over seventy years of age he was upright as a dart. He could not keep up with me when Ave wont out riding over the fields, but he would be out the whole day over the lands, and was always the first at his work in the morning and the last to leave off at night. The ryots all loved him, and would do anything for him; and when poor old Kassee died, the third year he had been under me, I felt as if an old friend had gone. I never spoke an angry word to him, and 1 never had a fault to find with him.

When the hoeing has been finished in zeraat and zillah, and all the upturned soil battened down by the hengha, the next thing is to commence the ploughing. Your ploughmen are mostly loiv-caste men—Doosadhs, Chumars, Moosahurs, Gwallahs, et hoc genus mane. The Indian plough, so like a big misshapen wooden pickaxe, has often been described. It however turns up the light soft soil very well considering its pretensions, and those made in the factory workshops are generally heavier and sharper than the ordinary village plough. Our bullocks too, being strong and well fed, the ploughing in the zeraats is generally good.

The ploughing is immediately followed up by the hengha, which again triturates and breaks up the clods, rolls the sticks, leaves, and grass roots together, brings the refuse and dirt to the surface, and again levels the soil, and prevents the wind from taking away the moisture. The land now looks fine and fresh and level, but very dirty. A host of coolies are put on the fields with small sticks in their hands, -ill the Dangrn women and children are there, with men women, anil children of all the poorest classes from the villages round, whom the attractions of wages or the exertions of headmen Tokedars and Zillalidars have brought together to earn their daily bread. With the sticks they beat and break up every clod, leaving not one behind the size of a walnut. They collect all the refuse, weeds, and dirt, which are heaped up and burnt on the field, and so they go on till the zeraats look as clean as a nobleman's garden, and you would think that surely this must satisfy the fastidious eye of the planter. But no, our work is not half begun yet.

It is rather a strange sight to see some four or five hundred coolies squatted in a long irregular line, chattering, laughing, shouting, or squabbling. A dense cloud of dust rises over them, and through the dim obscurity one hears the ceaseless sound of the thwack! thwack! as their sticks rattle on the ground. White dust lies thick on each swarthy skin; their faces are like faces in a pantomime. There are the flashing eyes and the grinning rows of white teeth; all else is clouded in thick layers of dust, with black spots and stencillings showing here and there like a picture in sepia and chalk. As they near the end of the field they redouble their thwacking, shuttle along like land-crabs, and while the Mates, Peons, and Tokedars shout at them to encourage them, they raise a roar loud enough to wake the dead. The dust rises in denser clouds, the noise is deafening, a regular mad hurry-scurry, a wild boisterous scramble ensues, and amid much chaffing, noise, and laughter, they scramble off again to begin another length of land; and so the day's work goes on.

The planter has to count his coolies several times a day, or they would cheat him. Some come in the morning, get counted, and their names put on the roll, and then go off till pay-time comes round. Some come for an hour or two, and send a relative in the evening when the pice are being paid out, to get the wage of work they have not done. All are paid in pice—little copper bits of coin, averaging about sixty-four to the rupee. However, you soon come to know the coolies by sight, and after some experience are rarely "taken in"; but many young beginners get "done" most thoroughly till they become accustomed to the tricks of the artless and unsophisticated coolie.

The type of feature along a line of coolies is as a rule a very forbidding and degraded one. They are mostly of the very poorest class. Many of them are plainly half silly, or wholly idiotic; not a few are deaf and dumb; others are crippled or deformed, and numbers are leprous and scrofulous. Numbers of them are afflicted in some districts with goitre, caused probably by bad drinking water; all have a pinched, withered, wan look, that tells of hard woik and insufficient fare. It is a pleasure to turn to the end of the line, where the Dangur women and boys and girls generally take their place. Here are the loudest laughter, and the sauciest faces. The children are merry, chubby, fat things, with well-distended stomachs and pleasant looks; a merry smile rippling over their broad fat cheeks as they slyly glance up at you. The women—with huge earrings in their ears, and a perfect load of heavy brass rings on their arms—chatter away, make believe to be shy, and show off a thousand coquettish airs. Their very toes are bedizened with brass rings; and long festoons of red, white, and blue beads hang pendent round their necks.

In the evening the line is re-formed before the bungalow. A huge bag of copper coin is produced. The old Lallah, or writer, with spectacles on nose, squats down in the middle of the assembled coolies, and as each name is called, the mates count out the pice, and make it over to the coolie, who forthwith hurries off to get his little purchases made, at the village Bunneah's shop, and so, on a poor supper of parched peas, or boiled rice, with no other relish but a pinch of salt, the poor coolie crawls to bed, only to dream of more hard work and scanty fare on the morrow. Poor thing! a village coolie has a hard time of it! During the hot months, if rice he cheap and plentiful, he can jog along pretty comfortably, hut when the cold nights come on, and he cowers in his wretched hut, hungry, half naked, cold, and wearied, he is of all objects most pitiable. It is, however, a fact little creditable to his more prosperous fellow-countrymen, that he gets better paid for his labour in connection with factory work, than he does


coolie's hUt

in many cases for tasks forced on him by the leading ryots of the village in connection with their own fields.

This first cleaning of the fields—or, as it is called, Omtennie —being finished, the lands are all again re-ploughed, re-harrowed, and then once more re-cleaned by the coolies, till not a weed or spot of dirt remains; and till the whole surface is uniformly soft, friable, moist, and clean. \Ye have now some breathing time ; and as this is the most enjoyable season of the year, when the days are cool, and roaring wood fires at night remind us of home, we hunt, visit, race, dance, and generally enjoy ourselves. Should heavy rain fall, as it sometimes does about Christmas and early in February, the whole cultivation gets beaten down and caked over. In such a case amusements must for a time be thrown aside, till all the lands have been again re-ploughed. Of course we are never wholly idle. There are always rents to collect, matters to adjust in connexion with our villages and tenantry, lawsuits to recover bad debts, to enforce contracts, or protect manorial or other rights,—but generally speaking, when the lands have been prepared, we have a slack season or breathing time for a month or so.

Arrangements having been made for the supply of seed, which generally comes from about the neighbourhood of Cawnpore, as February draws near we make preparations for beginning our sowings. February is the usual month, but it-depends on the moisture, and sometimes sowings may go on up till May and dune. In Purneah and Bhaugulpore, where the cultivation is much rougher than in Tirhoot, the sowing is done broadcast. And in Bengal the sowing is often done upon the soft mud which is left on the banks of the rivers at the retiring of the annual floods. In Tirhoot, however, where the high farming I have been trying to describe is practised, the sowing is done by means of drills. Drills are got out, overhauled, and put in thorough repair. Bags of seed are sent out to the villages, advances for bullocks are given to the ryots, and on a certain day when all seems favourable—no sign of rain or high winds—the drills are set at work, and day and night the work goes on, till all the cultivation has been sown. As the drills go along, the hengha follows close behind, covering the seed in the furrows; and once again it is put over, till the fields are all level, shining, and clean, waiting for the first appearance of the young soft shoots.

These, after some seven, nine, or perhaps fifteen days, according to the weather, begin to appear in long lines of delicate pale yellowish green. This is a most anxious time. Should rain fall, the whole surface of the earth gets caked and hard, and the delicate plant burns out, or being chafed against the hard surface crust, it withers and dies. If the wind gets into the east, it brings a peculiar blight which settles round the leaf and collar of the stem of the young plant, chokes it, and sweeps off miles and miles of it. If hot west winds blow, the plant gets black, discoloured, burnt up, and dead. A south wind often brings caterpillars—at least this pest often makes its appearance when the wind is southerly ; but as often as not caterpillars find their way to the young plant in the most mysterious manner—no one knowing whence they come. Daily, nay almost hourly, reports come in from all parts of the zillah: now you hear of "Lahee," blight on some field; now it is "Jhirka," scorching, or "Bilooa," caterpillars. In some places the seed may have been bad or covered with too much earth, and the plant comes up straggling and thin. If there is abundant moisture, this must be re-sown. In fact, there is never-ending anxiety and work at this season, but when the plant has got into ten or fifteen leaf, and is an inch or two high, the most critical time is over, and one begins to think about the next operation, namely weeding.

The coolies are again in requisition. Each comes armed with a coorpee,—this is a small metal spatula, broad-pointed, with which they dig out the weeds with amazing deftness. Sometimes they may inadvertently take out a single stem of indigo with the weeds: the eye of the mate or Toke Jar espies this at once, and the careless coolie is treated to a volley of Hindoo Billingsgate, in which all his relations are abused to the seventh generation. By the time the first weeding is finished, the plant will be over a foot high, and if necessary a second weeding is then given. After the second weeding, and if any rain has fallen in the interim, the plant will he fully two feet high.

It is now a noble looking expanse of beautiful green waving foliage. As the wind ruffles its myriads of leaves, the sparkle of the sunbeams on the undulating mass produces the most wonderful combinations of light and shade; feathery sprays of a delicate pale green curl gracefully all over the field. It is like an ocean of vegetation, with billows of rich colour chasing each other, and blending in harmonious hues; the whole field looking a perfect oasis of beauty amid the surrounding dull brown tints of the season.

It is now time to give the plant a light touch of the plough. This eases the soil about the roots, lets in air and light, tends to clean the undergrowth of weeds, and gives it a great impetus. The operation is called Bedahenee. By the beginning of June the tiny red flower is peeping from its leafy sheath, the lower leaves are turning yellowish and crisp, and it is almost time to begin the grandest and most important operation of the season, the manufacture of the dye from the plant.

To this you have been looking forward during the cold raw foggy days of November, when the ploughs were hard at work,—during the hot fierce winds of March, and the still, sultry, breathless early days of June, when the air was so still and oppressive that you could scarcely breathe. These, sultry days are the lull before the storm—the pause before the moisture-laden clouds of the monsoon roll over the land "rugged and brown," and the wild rattle of thunder and the lurid glare of quivering never-ceasing lightning herald in the annual rains. The manufacture however deserves a chapter to itself.


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