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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XIII


Description of a native village—Village functionaries—The barber— Bathing habits—The village well—The school—The. children—The village bazaar—The landowner and his dwelling—The "Putwarrie" or village accountant—The blacksmith—The "Punchayiet" or village jury system—Our legal system in India—Remarks on the administration of justice.

A typical village in Behar is a heterogeneous collection of thatched huts, apparently set down at random—as indeed it is, for every one erects his hut wherever whim or caprice leads him, or wherever he can get a piece of vacant land. Groves of feathery bamboos and broad-leaved plumy-looking plantains almost conceal the huts and buildings. Several small orchards of mango surround the village; the roads leading to and from it are merely w ell-worn cattle tracks— in the rains a perfect quagmire, and in the hot weather dusty and confined between straggling hedges of aloe or prickly pear. These hedges are festooned with masses of clinging luxuriant creepers, among which sometimes struggles up a custard apple, an avocado pear, or a wild plum-tree. The latter is a prickly straggling tree called the bhyre; the wood is very hard, and is often used for making ploughs. The fruit is a little hard yellow crisp fruit with a big stone inside and very sweet; w hen it is ripe, the village urchins throw sticks up among the branches, and feast on the golden shower.

On many of the banks bordering the roads, thatching grass or rather strong upright waving grass, with a beautiful feathery flume, is planted. Tim is used to make the walls of the houses, and these are then plastered outside and in with clay and cow-dung. The tall hedge of dense grass keeps-what little breeze there may be away from the traveller. The road is something like an Irish "Boreen," wanting only its beauty and freshness. On a hot day the atmosphere in one of these village roads is stilling and loaded with dust.

These houses with their grass walls and thatched roof are called cutchu, as opposed to more pretentious structures of burnt brick, with maybe a tiled sloping or flat plastered roof, which are called pucca. Pucca literally means "ripe," as opposed to cutcha, "unripe"; but the rich Oriental tongue has adapted it to almost every kind of secondary meaning. Thus a man who is true, upright, respected, a man to be depended on, is called a pucca. man. It is a word in constant use among Anglo-Indians. A pucca road is one which is bridged and metalled. If you make an engagement with a friend, and he wants to impress you with its importance, he will ask you, "How is that pucca?" and so on.

Other houses in the village are composed of unburnt bricks cemented with mud, or maybe composed of mud walls and thatched roof; these, being a compound sort of erection, are called cutcha pucca. In the cutcha houses live the poorer castes, the Chumars or workers in leathers, the Moosahurs, Doosadhs, or Gwedlahs.

The Domes, or scavengers, feeders on offal, have to live apart in a tolah, which might be called a small suburb, by themselves. The Domes drag from the village any animal that happens to die. They generally pursue the handicraft of basket making, or mat making, and the Dome tolah can always be known by the pigs and fowls prowling about in search of food, and the Dome and his family splitting up bamboo, and weaving mats and baskets at the doors of their miserable habitation. To the higher castes both pigs and fowls are unclean and an abomination. Moosahurs, Doosadhs, and other poor castes, such as Dangurs, keep, however, an army of gaunt, lean, hungry-looking pigs. These may he seen rooting and wallowing in the marshes when the rice has been cut, or foraging among the mango groves, to pick up any stray unripe fruit that may have escaped the keen eyes of the hungry and swarming children.

There is yet another small tolah or suburb, called the Kudbee tolah. Here live the miserable outcasts who minister to the worst passions of our nature. These degraded beings are banished from the more respectable portions of the community; but here, as in our own highly civilised and favoured land, vice hovers by the side of virtue, and the Hindoo village contains the same elements of happiness and misery, profligacy and probity, purity and degradation, as the fine home cities that are a name in the mouths of men.

Every village forms a perfect little commonwealth; it contains all the elements of self-existence; it is quite a little commune, so far as social life is concerned. There is a hereditary blacksmith, washerman, potter, barber, and writer. The dholee, or washerman, can always be known by the propinquity of his donkeys, diminutive animals which he uses to transport his bundle of unsavoury dirty clothes to the pool or tank where the linen is washed. On great country roads you may often see strings of donkeys laden with bags of grain, which they transport from far-away villages to the big bazaars; but if you see a laden donkey near a village, be sure the dholee is not far off.

Here as elsewhere the hajam, or barber, is a great gossip, and generally a favourite. He uses no soap, and has a most uncouth-looking razor, yet he shaves the heads, beards, moustaches, and armpits of Ids customers with great deftness. The lower classes of natives shave the hair of the head and of the armpits for the sake of cleanliness and for other obvious reasons. The higher classes are very regular in their ablutions; every morning, be the water cold or warn.

The Rajpoot and Brahmin, the respectable middle classes, and all in the village who lay any claim to social position, have their goosal or bath. Some hie to the nearest tank or stream; at all hours of the day, at any ferry or landing stage, you will see swarthy fine-looking fellows up to mid waist in the water, scrubbing vigorously their bronzed arms, and neck and chest. They clean their teeth with the end of a stick, which they chew at one extremity, till they loosen the fibres, and with this improvised toothbrush and some wood ashes for paste, they make the teeth look as white and clean as ivory.

There is generally a large masonry well in the middle of the village, with a broad smooth pucca platform all round it. It has been built by some former father of the hamlet, to perpetuate his memory, to fulfil a vow to the gods, perhaps simply from goodwill to his fellow townsmen. At all events there is generally one such in every village. It is generally shadowed by a huge bhur, peepul, or tamarind tree. Here may always be seen the busiest sight in the village. Pretty young women chatter, laugh, and talk, and assume all sorts of picturesque attitudes as they fill their waterpots; the village matrons gossip, and sometimes quarrel, as they pull away at the windlass over the deep cool well. On the platform are a group of fat Brahmins nearly nude, their lighter skins contrasting well with the duskier hue of the lower classes. There are several groups. With damp drapery clinging to their glistening skins, they pour brass pots of cold water over their dripping bodies; they rub themselves briskly, and gasp again as the cool element pours over head and shoulders. They sit down while some young attendant or relation vigorously rubs them down the back; while sitting they clean their feet. Thus, amid much laughing and talking, and quaint gestures, and not a little expectoration, they perform their ablutions. Not unfrequently the more wealthy anoint their bodies with mustard oil, which at all events keeps out cold and chill, as they claim that it does, though it is not fragrant. Hound the well you get all the village news and scandal. It is always thronged in the mornings and evenings, and only deserted when the fierce heat of midday plunges the village into a lethargic silence; unbroken save where the hum of the hand-mill, or the thump of the husking-post, tells where some busy damsel or matron is grinding Hour, or husking rice, in the cool shadow of her hut, for the wants of her lord and master.

Education is now making rapid strides; it is fostered by government, and many of the wealthier landowners or Zemindars subscribe liberally for a schoolmaster in their villages. Near the principal street then, in a sort of lane, shadowed by an old mango-tree, we come on the village school. The little fellows have all discarded their upper clothes on account of the heat, and with much noise, swaying the body backwards and forwards, and [monotonously intoning, they grind away at the mill of learning, and try to get a knowledge of books. Other dusky urchins figure away with lumps of chalk on the floor, or on flat pieces of wood to serve as copy-books. The din increases as the stranger passes: going into an English school, the stranger would probably cause a momentary pause in the hum that is always heard in school. The little Hindoo scholar probably wishes to impress you with a sense of his assiduity. He raises his voice, sways the body more briskly, keeps his one eye firmly fixed on his task, while with the other he throws a keen swift glance over you, which embraces every detail of your costume, and not improbably includes a shrewd estimate of your disposition and character.

Hindoo children never seem to me to be boys or girls; they are preternaturallv acute and observant. You seldom see them playing together. They seem to be born with the gift of telling a lie with most portentous gravity. They wear an air of the most winning candour and guileless innocence, when they are all the while plotting some petty scheme against you. They are certainly far more precocious than English children; they realise the hard struggle for life far more quickly. The poorer classes can hardly be said to have any childhood; as soon as they can toddle they are sent to weed, cut grass, gather fuel, tend herds, or do anything that will bring them in a small pittance, and ease the burden of the struggling parents. I think the children of the higher and middle classes very pretty; they have beautiful dark, thoughtful eyes, and a most intelligent expression. Very young babies however are miserably nursed; their hair is allowed to get all tangled and matted into unsightly knots; their faces are seldom washed, and their eyes are painted with antimony about the lids, and are often rheumy and running with water. The use of the pocket handkerchief is sadly neglected.

There is generally one open space or long street in our village, and in a hamlet of any importance there is weekly or bi-weekly a bazaar or market. From early morning in all directions, from solitary huts in the forest, from struggling little crofts in the rice lands, from fishermen's dwellings perched on the bank of the river, from lonely camps in the grass jungle where the herd and his family live with their cattle, from all the petty thorpes about, come the women with their baskets of vegetables, their bundles of spun yarn, their piece of woven cloth, whatever they have to sell or barter. There is a lad with a pair of wooden shoes, which he has fashioned as he was tending the village cows; another with a grass mat, or bamboo staff, or some other strange outlandish-looking article, which he hopes to barter in the bazaar for something on which his heart is set. The lumiahs hurry up their tottering, over-laden ponies; the rice merchant twists his patient bullock's tail to make it move faster: the cloth merchant with his bale under his arm and measuring stick in hand, walks briskly along. Here comes a gang of charcoal-burners, with their loads of fuel slung on poles dangling from their shoulders. A fox wallah with his attendant coolie, staggering under the weight of a huge box of Manchester goods, hurries by. It is a busy sight in the bazaar. What a cackling! "What a confused clatter of voices". Here also the women are the chief contributors to the din of tongues. There is no irate husband here or moody master to tell them to be still. Spread out on the ground are heaps of different grain, bags of flour, baskets of meal, pulse, or barley; sweetmeats occupy the attention of nearly all the buyers. All Hindoos indulge in sweets, which take the place of beer with us; instead of a "nobbier," they offer you a "lollipop." Trinkets, beads, bracelets, armlets, and anklets of pewter, there are in great bunches; fruits, vegetables, sticks of cane, skins full of oil, and sugar, and treacle. Stands with fresh "paun" leaves, and piles of coarse-louking masses of tobacco are largely patronised. It is like a hive of bees. The dust hovers over the moving mass; the smells are various, none of them "blest odours of sweet Araby." Drugs, condiments, spices, shoes, hi fact, everything that a rustic population can require, is here. The pice jingle as they change hands; the haggling and chaffering are without parallel in any market at home. Here is a man apparently in the last madness of intense passion, in fierce altercation with another, who tries his utmost to outbluster his furious declamation. In a moment they are smiling, and to all appearance the best friends in the world. The bargain has been concluded; it was all about whether the one could give three hinjals or four for one price. It is a scene of indescribable bustle, noise, and confusion. By evening, however, all will have been packed up again, and only the faint outlines of yet floating clouds of dust, and the hopping, cheeky crows, picking up the scattered litter and remnants of the market, will remain to tell that it has been bazaar day in our village.

Generally, about the centre of it, there is a more pretentious structure, with verandahs supported on wooden pillars. High walls surround a rather commodious courtyard. There are mysterious little doors, through which you can get a peep of crooked little stairs leading to the upper rooms or to the roof, from dusky inside verandahs. Half-naked, listless, indolent figures lie about, or walk slowly to and from the yard, with seemingly purposeless indecision. In the outer verandah is an old palkee, with evidences in the tarnished gilding and frayed and tattered hangings, that it once had some pretensions to fashionable elegance.

The walls of the buildings however are sadly cracked, and numerous young peepy trees grow in the crevices, their insidious roots creeping farther and farther into the fissures, and expediting the work of decay, which is everywhere apparent. It is the residence of the Zemindar, the lord of the village, the owner of the lands adjoining. Probably he is descended from some noble house of ancient lineage. His forefathers, possibly, led armed retainers against some rival in yonder far off village, where the dim outlines of a mud fort yet tell of the insecurity of the days of old. Now he is old, and fat, and lazy. Possibly he has been too often to the money-lender. His lands are mortgaged to their full value-Though they respect and look up to their old Zemindar, the villagers are getting independent; they are not so humble, and pay less and less of feudal tribute than in the old days, when the golden palanquin was new, when the elephant had splendid housings, when mace, and javelin, and match-lock men followed in his train. Alas ! the elephant was sold long ago, and is now the property of a wealthy Bunnich who has amassed money iu the buying and selling of grain and oil. The Zemindar may be a man of progress and intelligence, but many are of this broken-down and helpless type.

Holding the lands of the village by hereditary right, by grant, conquest, or purchase, he collects his rents from the villages through a small staff of peons, or unofficial police. The accounts are kept by another important village functionary—the putwarrie, or village accountant. Putworries belong to the writer or Kayasth caste. They are probably as clever, and at the same time as unscrupulous as any class in India. They manage the most complicated accounts between ryot and landlord with great skill. Their memories are wonderful, but they can always forget conveniently. Where ryots are numerous, the landlord's wants pressing, and frequent calls made on the tenantry for payment, often made in various kinds of grain and produce, the rates and prices of which are constantly changing, it is easy to imagine the complications and intricacies of a putwarrie s account. Each ryot pretty accurately remembers his own particular indebtedness, but woe to Kin if he pays the putwarrie the value of a "red cent" without taking a receipt. Certainly there may be a really honest putwarrie, but I very much doubt it. The name stands for chicanery and robbery. On the one hand, the landlord is constantly stiring him up for money, questioning his accounts, and putting him not unfrequently to actual bodily coercion. The ryot, on the other hand, is constantly inventing excuses, getting up delays, and propounding innumerable reasons why he cannot pay. He will try to forge receipts, he will get up false evidence that he has already paid, and the wretched putwarrie needs all his native and acquired sharpness to hold his own. But all ryots are not alike, and when the putwarrie gets hold of some unwary and ignorant bumpkin whom he can plunder, he does plunder him systematically, .ill cowherds are popularly supposed to be cattle lifters, and a putwarrie after he has got over the stage of infancy, and has been indoctrinated into all the knavery that his elders can teach him, is supposed to belong to the highest category of villains. A popular proverb, much used! in Ttehar, says:—

"Under poortee, Cowa maru!
Jinnum me, billar:
Bora burris me, Kayaath mariye!!
Humesha mara gwar!!"

This is translated thus: "When the shell is breaking kill the crow, and the wild cat at its birth." A Kayasth, writer, or putwarrie, may be allowed to live till he is twelve years old, at which time he is sure to have learned rascality. Then kill him; but kill ywars or cowherds any time, for they are invariably rascals. There is a deal of grim bucolic humour in this, and it very nearly hits the truth.

The putwarrie, then, is an important personage. He has his cutcherry, or office, where he and his tribe (for there are always numbers of his fellow caste men who help him in his. books and accounts) squat on their mat on the ground. Each possesses the instruments of his calling in the shape of a small brass ink-pot, and an oblong box containing a knife, pencil, and several reeds for pens. Each has a bundle of papers and documents before him, this is called his busta, and contains all the papers he uses. There they sit, and have fierce squabbles with the tenantry. There is always some noise about a putwarrie's cutcherry. He has generally some half dozen quarrels on hand, but he trusts to his pen, and tongue, and clever brain. He is essentially a man of peace, hating physical contests, delighting in a keen argument, and an encounter with a plotting, calculating brain. Another proverb says that the putwarrie has as much chance of becoming a soldier as a sheep has of success in attacking a wolf.

The lohar, or blacksmith, is very unlike his prototype at home. Here is no sounding anvil, no dusky shop, with the sparks from the heated iron lighting up its dim recesses. There is little to remind one of Longfellow's beautiful poem.

The lobar sits in the open air. His hammers and other implements of trade are very primitive. Like all native handicraftsmen he sits down at his work. His bellows are made of two loose hags of sheepskin, lifted alternately by the attendant coolie. As they lift they get inflated with air; they are then sharply forced down on their own folds, and the contained air ejected forcibly through an iron or clay nozzle, into the very small heap of gloving charcoal which forms the fire. His principal work is making and sharpening the uncouth-looking ploughshares, which look more like fiat blunt chisels than anything else. They also make and keep in repair the hussowahs, or serrated sickles, with which the crops are cut. They are slow at their task, but many of them are ingenious workers in metal. They are very imitative, and I have seen many English tools and even gun-locks, made by a common native village blacksmith, that could not be surpassed in delicacy of finish by any English smith. It is foreign to our ideas of the brawny blacksmith, to hear that he sits to his work, but this is the invariable custom. Even carpenters and masons squat down to theirs. Cheap labour is but an arbitrary term, and a country smith at home might do the work of ten or twelve men in India; but it is just as well to get an idea of existing differences. On many of the factories there are very intelligent mistrecs, which is the term for the master blacksmith. These men, getting but twenty-four to thirty shillings a month, and supplying themselves with food and clothing, are nevertheless competent to work all the machinery, attend to the engine, and do all the ironwork necessary for the factory. They will superintend the staff of blacksmiths ; and if the sewing-machine of the mem sahib, the gun-lock of the hurra, sahib, the lawn-mower, English pump, or other machine gets out of order, requiring any metal work, the mistree is called in, and is generally competent to put things to rights.

As I have said, every village is a self-contained little cummune. All trades necessary to supplying the wants of the villagers are represented in it. Besides the profits from his actual calling, nearly every man, except the daily labourer, has a little bit of land which he farms, so as to eke out his scanty income. All possess a cow or two, a few goats, and probably a pair of plough-bullocks.

When a dispute arises in the village, should a person be suspected of theft, should his cattle trespass on his neighbour's growing crop, should he libel some one against whom he has a grudge, or, proceeding to stronger measures, take the law into his own hands and assault him, the aggrieved party complains to the head man of the village. In every village the head man is the fountain of justice. He holds his office sometimes by right of superior wealth, or intelligence, or hereditary succession, not unfrequently by the unanimous wish of his fellow-villagers. On a complaint being made to him, he summons both parties and their witnesses. The complainant is then allowed to nominate two men, to act as assessors or jurymen on his behalf, his nominations being liable to challenge by the opposite party. The defendant next names two to act on his behalf, and if these are agreed to by both parties, these four, with the head man, form what is called a punchayiet, or council of five, in fact, a jury. They examine the witnesses, and each party to the suit conducts his own case. The whole village not unfrequently attends to hear what goes on. In a mere caste or private quarrel, only the friends of the parties will attend. Every case is tried in public, and all the inhabitants of the village can hear the proceedings if they wish. Respectable inhabitants can remark on the proceedings, make suggestions, and give an opinion. Public feeling is thus pretty accurately gauged and tested, and the punchayiet agree among themselves on the verdict. To the honour of their character for fair play be it said, that the decision of a punchayiet is generally correct, annd is very seldom appealed against. Our complicated system of law, with its delays, its technicalities, its uncertainties, and above all its expense, its stamp duties, its court fees, its bribes to native underlings, and the innumerable vexations attendant on the administration of justice in our revenue and criminal courts, are repugnant to the villager of Hindostan. They are very litigious, and believe in our desire to give them justice and protection to life and property; but our courts are far too costly, our machinery of justice is far too intricate and complicated for a people like the Hindoos. "Justice within the gate" is what they want. It is quite enough admission of the reality of our rule—that we are the paramount power—that they submit a case to us at all; and all impediments in the way of their getting cheap and speedy justice should be done away with. A codification of existing laws, a sweeping away of one half the forms and technicalities that at present bewilder the applicant for justice, and altogether a less legal and more equitable procedure, having a due regard to efficiency and the conservation of Imperial interests, should be the aim of our Indian rulers. More especially should this be the case in rural districts where large interests are concerned, where cases involve delicate points of law. Our present courts, divested of their hungry crowd of middlemen and retainers, are right enough; but I would like to see rural courts for petty cases established, presided over by leading natives, planters, merchants, and men of probity, which would in a measure supplement the punchayut system, which would be easy of access, cheap in their procedure, and with all the impress of authority. It is a question I merely glance at, as it does not come within the scope of a book like this; but it is well known to every planter and European who has come much in contact with the rural classes of Hindostan, that there is a vast amount of smouldering disaffection, of deep-rooted dislike to, and contempt of, our present cumbrous costly machinery of law and justice.

If a villager wishes to level a withering sarcasm at the head of a plausible, talkative fellow, all promise and in performance, ready with tongue but not with purse or service, he calls him a mlccel, that is, a lawyer. If he has to cool his heels in your office, or round the factory to get some little business done, to neglect his work, to get his rent or produce account investigated, wherever there is worry, trouble, delay, or difficulty about anything concerning the relations between himself and the factory, the deepest and keenest expression of discontent and disgust his versatile and acute imagination can suggest, or his fluent tongue give utterance to, is, that this is "Adawlut ka mafick," that is, "like a court of justice." Could there be a stronger commentary on our judicial institutions?

The world is waking up now rapidly from the lethargic sleep of ages. Men's minds are keenly alive to what is passing; communications are much improved; the dissemination of news is rapid; the old race of besotted, ignorant tenants, and grasping, avaricious, domineering tyrants of landlords is fast dying out; and there could be no difficulty in establishing such village or district courts as I have indicated. All educated respectable Europeans with a stake in the country should be made Justices of the Peace, with limited powers to try petty cases. There is a vast material —loyalty, educated minds, an honest desire to do justice, independence, and a genuine scorn of everything pettifogging and underhand—that the Indian Government would do well to utilise. The best friend of the Baboo cannot acquit him of a tendency to temporise, a hankering after finesse, a too fatal facility to fall under pecuniary temptation. The educated gentleman planter of the present day is above suspicion, and before showering titles and honours on native gentlemen, elevating them to the bench, and deluging the sendees with them, it might be worth our rulers' while to utilise, or try to utilise, the experience, loyalty, honour, and integrity of those of our countrymen who might be willing to place their services at the disposal of Government. "India for the Indians" is a very good cry; it sounds well; but it will not do to push it to its logical issue. Unless Indians can govern India wisely and well, in accordance with modern national ideas, they have no more right to India than Hottentots have to the Cape, or the black fellows to Australia. In my opinion, Hindoos would never govern Hindustan half, quarter, nay, (me tithe as well as Englishmen. Make more of your Englishmen in India then, make not less of your Baboo if you please, but make more of your Englishmen. Keep them loyal and content. Treat them kindly and liberally. One Englishman, contented, loyal, and industrious in an Indian district, is a greater pillar of strength to the Indian Government than ten dozen Baboos or Zemindars, let them have as many titles, decorations, university degrees, or certificates of loyalty from junior civilians as they may. Not India for the Indians, but India for Imperial Britain say I.


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