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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XV


Jungle wild fruits—Curious method of catching quail—Quail nets—Quail caught in a blacksmith's shop—Native wrestling—The trainer—How they train for a match—Rules of wrestling—Grips—A wrestling match—Incidents of the struggle—Description of a match between a Brahmin and a blacksmith—Sparring for the grip—The blacksmith has it—The struggle—The Brahmin getting the worst of it—Two to one on the little 'un !—The Brahmin plays the waiting game, turns the tables and the blacksmith—Remarks on wrestling.

A peculiarity in the sombre sal jungles is the scarcity of wild fruit. At home the woods are filled with berries and fruit-bearing bushes. Who among my readers has not a lively recollection of bramble hunting, nutting, or merry expeditions for blueberries, wild strawberries, raspberries, and other wild fruits? You might walk many a mile through the sal jungles without meeting fruit of any kind, save the dry and tasteless wild fig or the sickly mhowa.

There are indeed very few jungle fruits that I have ever come across. There is one acid sort of plum called the Omra, which makes a good preserve, but is not very nice to eat raw. The Gorkah is a small red berry, very sweet and pleasant, slightly acid, not unlike a red currant in fact, and with two small pips or stones. The Nepaulese call it Bunchoree. It grows on a small stunted-looking bush, with few branches, and a pointed leaf, in form resembling the acacia leaf, but not so large.

The Glaphur is a brown, round fruit; the skin rather crisp and hard, and of a dull earthy colour, not unlike that of a common boiled potato. The inside is a stringy, spongy-looking mass, with small seeds embedded in a gummy viscid substance. The taste is exactly like an almond, and it forms a pleasant mouthful if one is thirsty.

Travelling one day along one of the glades I have mentioned as dividing the strips of jungle, I was surprised to see a man before me in a field of long stubble, with a cloth spread over his head, and two sticks projecting in front at an obtuse angle to his body, forming horn-like projections, on which the ends of his cloth, twisted spirally, were tied. I thought from his curious antics and movements that he must be mad, but I soon discovered that there was method in his madness. He was catching quail. The quail are often very numerous in the stubble fields, and the natives adopt very ingenious devices for their capture. This was one I was now witnessing. Covering themselves with their cloth as I have described, the projecting ends of the two sticks representing the horns, they simulate all the movements of a cow or bull. They pretend to paw up the earth, toss their make-believe horns, turn round and pretend to scratch themselves, and in fact identify themselves with the animal they are representing; ami it is irresistibly comic to watch a solitary performer go through this al fresco comedy. I have laughed often at some cunning old herdsman or shekarry. When they see you watching them, they will redouble their efforts, and try to represent an old bull, going through all his pranks and practices, and throw you into convulsions of laughter.

Hound two sides of the field, they have previously put fine nets, and at the apex they have a large cage with a decoy quail inside, or perhaps a pair. The quail is a running bird, disinclined for flight except at night; in the day-time they prefer running to using their wings. The idiotic-looking old cow, as we will call the hunter, has all his wits about him. He proceeds very slowly and warily, his keen eye detects the coveys of quail, which way they are running; his ruse generally succeeds wonderfully. He is no more like a cow than that respectable animal is like a cucumber; but he paws, and tosses, and moves about, pretends to eat, to nibble here, and switch his tail there, and so manoeuvres as to keep the running quail away from the unprotected edges of the field. "When they get to the verge protected by the net, they begin to take alarm ; they are probably not very certain about the peculiar-looking " old cow" behind them, and running along the net, they see the decoy quails evidently feeding in great security and freedom The Y-shaped mouth of the large basket cage looks invitingly open. The puzzling nets are barring the way, and the "old cow" is gradually closing up behind. As the hunter moves along, I should have told you, he rubs two pieces of dry hard sticks gently up and down his thigh with one hand, producing a peculiar crepitation, a crackling sound, nut sufficient to startle the birds into flight, but alarming them enough to make them get out of the way of the "old cow." One bolder than the others, possibly the most timid of the covey, irritated by the queer crackling sound, now enters the basket, the others follow like a flock of sheep; and once in, the puzzling shape of the entrance prevents their exit. Not unfrequentlv the hunter bags twenty or even thirty bracc of quail in one field by this ridiculous-looking but ingenious method.

The small quail net is also sometimes used for the capture of hares. The natives stretch the net in the jungle, much as they do the large nets for deer described in a former chapter; forming a line, they then beat up the hares, of which there are no stint. My friend Pat once made a novel haul. His loharkhanna or blacksmith's shop was close to a patch of jungle, and Pat often noticed numbers of quail running through the loose chinks and crevices of the walls, hi the morning w hen any one went into the place for the first time; this was at a factory called Pajpore. Pat came to the conclusion, that as the blacksmith's fires smouldered some time

after work was discontinued at night, and as the atmosphere of the hut was warmer and more genial than the cold, foggy, outside air, for it was in the cold season, the quail probably took up their quarters in the hut for the night, on account of the warmth and shelter. One night, therefore, he got some of his servants, and with great caution and as much silence as possible, they let down a quantity of nets all round the loharkhanna, and in the morning they captured about twenty quails.

The quail is very pugnacious, and as they are easily trained to fight, they are very common pets with the natives, who train and keep them to pit them against each other, and bet what they can afford on the result. A quail fight, a battle between two trained rams, a cock fight, even an encounter between trained tamed buffaloes, are very common spectacles in the villages; but the most popular sport is a good wrestling match.

The dwellers in the Presidency towns, and indeed in most of the large stations, seldom see an exhibition of this kind; but away in the remote interior, near the frontier, it is a very popular pastime, and wrestling is a favourite with all classes. Such manly sport is rather opposed to the commonly received idea at home of the mild Hindoo. In nearly every village of Beliar, however, and all along the borders of Nepaul, there is, as a rule, a bit of land attached to the residence of some head man, or the common property of the commune, set apart for the practice of athletic sports, chief of which is the favourite khooslhec or wrestling. There is generally some wary old veteran, who has won his spurs, or laurels, or belt, or whatever you choose to call it, in many a hard fought and well contested tussle for the championship of his little world; he is " up to every dodge," and knows every feint and guard, every wile and tactic of the wrestling ground. It is generally situated in some shady grove, secluded and cool; here of an evening, when the labours of the Jay aie over, the most stalwart sons of the hamlet meet, to test each other's skill and endurance in a friendly tussle. The old man puts them through the preliminary practice, shows them every trick at his command, and attends strictly to their training and various trials. The arena is dug knee deep, and forms a soft, good holding ground. I have often looked on at this evening practice, and it would astonish a stranger, who cannot understand strength, endurance, and activity being attributed to a "mere nigger," to see the severe training these young lads impose upon themselves. They leap into the air, and suddenly assume a sitting position, then leap up again and squat down with a force that would seem to jerk every bone in their bodies out of its place; this gets up the muscles of the thighs. Some lie down at full length, only touching the ground with the extreme tips of their toes, their arms doubled up under them, and sustaining the full weight of the body on the extended palms of the hands. They then sway themselves backwards and forwards to their full length, never shitting hand or toe, till they are bathed in perspiration; they keep up a uniform steady backward and forward movement, so as to develop the muscles of the arms, chest, and back. They practise leaping, running, and lifting weights. Some, standing at their full height, brace up the muscles of the shoulder and upper arm, and then leaping up, allow themselves to fall to earth on the tensely strung muscles of the shoulder. This severe exercise gets the muscles into perfect furm, and few, very few indeed of our untrained youths could cope in a dead lock or fierce struggle with a good village Hindoo or Mussulman in active training, and having any knowledge of the tricks of the wrestling school. No hitting is allowed. The Hindoo system of wrestling is the perfection of science and kill; mere dead weight of course will always tell in a close grip, but the catches, the holds, the twists and dodges that are practised, allow for the fullest development of cultivated skill, as against mere brute force. The system is purely a scientific one. The fundamental rule is "catch where you can," only you must not clutch the hair or strike with the fists.

The loins are tightly girt with a long waist-belt or kummerlntnd of cloth, which, passed repeatedly between the limbs and round the loins, sufficiently braces up and protects that part of the body. In some matches you are not- allowed to clutch this waist-cloth or belt, in some villages it is allowed; the custom varies in various places, but what is a fair grip, and what is not, is always made known before the competitors engage. A twist, fir grip, or dodge, is known as a paunch. This literally means a screw or twist, but in wrestling phraseology means any grip by which you can get such an advantage over your opponent as to defeat him. Tor every paench there is a counter paench. A throw is considered satisfactory when both shoulders of your opponent touch the ground simultaneously. The old khalifa, or trainer takes a great interest in the progress of his chailasor pupils. Chaila really means disciple or follower. Every khalifa has his favourite paenches or grips, which have stood him in good stead in his old battling days; he teaches these paenches to his pupils, so that when you get young fellows from different villages to meet, you see a really fine exhibition of wrestling skill. There is little tripping, as amongst our wrestlers at home; a dead-lock is uncommon. The rival wrestlers generally bound into the ring, slapping their thighs and arms with a loud resounding slap. They lift their legs high up from the ground with every step, and scheme, and manoeuvre sometimes for a long while to get the best corner; they try to get the sun into their adversaries' eyes; they scan the appearance and every movement of their opponent. The old wary fellows take it very coolly, and if they can't get the desired side of the ground, they keep hopping about like a solemn old ostrich, till the impetuosity or impatience of their foe leads him to attack. They remind you for all the world of a pair of game cocks, their bodies are bent, their heads almost touching. There is a deal of light play with the hands, each trying to get the other by the wrist or elbow, or at the back of the head round the neck. If one gets the other by a ilnger even, it is a great advantage, as he would whip nimbly round, and threaten to break the impounded linger; this would be considered quite fair. One will often suddenly drop on his knees and try to reach the ankles of his adversary. I have seen a slippery customer stoop suddenly down, grasp up a handful of dust, and throw it into the eyes of his opponent. It was done 'with the quickness of thought, but it was detected, and on an appeal by the sufferer, the knave, was well thrashed by the onlookers.

There are many professionals who follow no other calling. Wrestlers are kept by Hajahs and wealthy men who get up matches. Frequently one village will challenge another, like our village cricket clubs. The villagers often get up small subscriptions, and purchase a silver armlet or bracelet, the prize of him who shall hold his own against all comers. The "Champion's Belt" scarcely calls forth greater competition, keener rivalry, or better sport. It is at once the most manly and most scientific sport in which the native indulges. A disputed fall sometimes terminates in a general free fight, when the backers of the respective men lay on the stick to each other with mutual hate and hearty lustiness.

It is not by any means always the strongest who wins. The man wdio knows the most paenches, who is agile, active, cool, and careful, will not unfrequently overthrow an antagonist twice his weight and strength. All the wrestlers in the country-side know each other's qualifications pretty accurately, and at a general match got up by a Zemindar or planter, or by public subscription, it is generally safe to let them handicap the men who are ready to compete for the prizes. We used generally to put down a few of the oldest professors, and let them pit couples against each other ; the sport to the onlookers was most exciting. Between the men themselves, as a rule, the utmost good-humour reigns, they strive hard to win, but they accept a defeat with smiling resignation. It is only between rival village champions, different caste men, or worse still, men of differing religions, such as a Hindoo and a Mahommedan, that there is any danger of a fight. A disturbance is a rare exception, but I have seen a few wrestling matches end in a regular general scrimmage, with broken heads and even fractured limbs. With good management, however, and an efficient body of men to guard against a breach of the peace, this need never occur.

It rarely takes much trouble to get up a match. If you tell your head man that you would like to see one, say on a Saturday afternoon, they pass the word to the different villages, and at the appointed time, all the finest young fellows and most of the male population, led by their head man, with the old trainer in attendance, are at the appointed place. The competitors are admitted within the enclosure, and round it the rows of spectators, packed twenty deep, squat on the ground, and watch the proceeding with deep interest.

While the Puncliayiet, a picked council, are taking down the names of intending competitors, finding out about their form and performances, and assigning to each his antagonist, the young men throw themselves with shouts and laughter into the ring, and go through all the evolutions and postures of the training ground. They bound about, try all sorts of antics and contortions, display wonderful agility and activity; it is a pretty sight to see, and one can't help admiring their vigorous frames and graceful proportions. They are handsome, well made, supple, wiry fellows, although they be huge, and Hodge and Giles at home would not have a chance with them in a fair wrestling bout, conducted according to their own laws and customs.

The entries are now all made, places and pairs are arranged, and to the ear-splitting thunder of two or three tom-toms, two pair of strapping youngsters step into the ring; they carefully scan each other, advance, shake hands, or salaam, leisurely tie up their black hair, slap their muscles, rub a little earth over their shoulders and arras, so that their adversary may have a fair grip, then step by step slowly and gradually they near each other. A few quick passages are now interchanged; the lithe supple fingers twist and intertwine, grips are formed on arm and neck. The postures change each moment, and are a study for an anatomist or sculptor. As they warm to their work they get more reckless ; they are only the raw material, the untrained lads. There is a quick scuffle, heaving, swaying, rocking, and struggling, and the two victors, leaping into the air, and slapping their chests, bound back into the gratified circle of their comrades, while the two discomfited athletes, forcing a rueful smile, retire and "take a back seat." Two couple of more experienced hands now face each other. There is pretty play this time, as the varying changes of the contest bring forth ever varying displays of skill and science. The crowd shout as an advantage is gained, or cry out "Hi, Id'' In a doubtful manner, as their favourite seems to be getting the worst of it. The result however is much the same; after a longer or shorter time, two get fairly thrown and retire. If there is any dispute, it is at once referred to the judges, who sit grimly watching the struggle, and comparing the paenches displayed with those they themselves have practised in many a well-won fight On a reference being made both combatants retain their exact hold and position, only cease straining. As soon as the matter is settled, they go at it again till victory determines in favour of the lucky man. In no similar contest in England, I am convinced, would there be so much fairness, quietness, and order. The only stimulants in the crowd are betel nut and tobacco. All is orderly and calm, and at any moment a word from the sahib will quell any rising turbulence. It is now time for a still more scientific exhibition.

Tat has a man, a tall, wiry, handsome Brahmin, who has never yet been beaten. Young K. has long been jealous of his uniform success, and on several occasions has brought an antagonist to battle with Bat's champion. To-day he has got a sturdy young blacksmith, whom rumour hath much vaunted, and although he is not so tall as Bat's wrestler, his square, deep chest and stalwart limbs give promise of great strength and endurance.

As the two men strip and bound into the ring, there is the usual hush of anticipation. Seen eyes scan the appearance of the antagonists. They are both models of manly beauty. The blacksmith, though more awkward in his motions, has a cool, determined look about him. The Brahmin, conscious of his reputation, walks quickly up, with a smile of rather ostentatious condescension on his finely cut features, and offers his hand to the blacksmith. The. little man is evidently suspicious. He thinks this may be a deeply laid trap to get a grip upon him. Nor does he like the bland patronising manner of "Roopnarain," so he surlily draws back, at which there is a roar of laughter from the crowd, in which we cannot help joining.

K. now comes forward, and pats his "fancy man" on the back. The two wrestlers thereupon shake hands, anil then in the usual manner both warily move backwards and forwards, till, amid cries from the onlookers, the blacksmith makes a sudden dash at the practised old player, and in a moment has him round the waist. He evidently depended on his superior strength. For a moment he fairly lifted Eoopnarain clean off his legs, swayed him to and fro, and with a mighty strain tried to throw him to the ground.

Bending to the strain, Iloop na rain allowed himself to yield till his feet touched the ground, then, crouching like a panther, he hounded forward, and, getting his leg behind that of the blacksmith, by a deft side twist he nearly tlirew him over. The little fellow, however, steadied himself on the ground with one hand, recovered his footing, and again had the Brahmin firmly locked in his tenacious hold. Roopnarain. did not like the grip. These were not the tactics he was accustomed to. "While the other tugged and strained, he, quietly yielding his lithe lissom frame to every effort, tried hard with obstinate endeavour to untwist the hands that held him firmly locked. It was beautiful play to see the mute hands of both the wrestlers, feeling, tearing, twisting at each other; but the grasp was too firm, and, taking advantage of a momentary movement, Roopnarain got his elbow under the other's chin, then, leaning forward, he pressed his opponent's head backward, and the strain began to tell. He fought fiercely, he struggled hard, but the determined elbow was not to be baulked, ami to save himself from an overthrow the blacksmith was forced to relax his hold, and sprang nimbly back beyond reach, to mature another attack. Roopnarain quietly walked round, nibbed his shoulders with earth, and with the same mocking smile, stood leaning forward, his hands on his knees, waiting for a fresh onset.

This time the young fellow was more cautious. He found he had no novice to deal with, and the Brahmin was not at all anxious to precipitate matters. By a splendid feint, after some pretty sparring for a grip, the youngster again succeeded in getting a hold on the Brahmin, and, wheeling round quick as lightning, got behind Roopnarain, and with a dexterous trip threw the tall man heavily on his face, He then tried to get him by the ankle, and bending his leg up backwards, he would have got a purchase for turning him on his back. The old man was, however, "up to this move." He lay extended flat on his chest, his legs wide apart. As often as the little one bent down to grasp his ankle, he would put out a hand stealthily and silently as a snake, and endeavour to get the little man's leg in his grasp. This necessitated a change of position, and round and round they spun, each Trying to get hold of the other hv the leg or foot. The blacksmith got his knee on the neck of the Brahmin, and by sheer strength tried several times with a mighty heave to turn his opponent. It was no use, however; it is next to impossible to throw a man when he is lying flat out as the Brahmin now was. It is difficult enough to turn the dead weight of a man in that position, and when he is straining every nerve to resist the accomplishment of your object it becomes altogether impracticable. The excitement in the crowd was intense. The very drummer—I ought to call him a tom-tomer—had ceased to heat his tom-tom. Bat's lips were firmly pressed together, and K. was trembling with suppressed excitement. The heaving chests and profuse perspiration bedewing the bodies of both combatants, told how severe had been their exertions. The blacksmith seemed gathering himself up for a mighty effort, when, quick as light, the Brahmin drew his limbs together, and was seen to arch his back, and, with a sudden backward movement, seemed to glide from under his dashing assailant, and, quicker than it takes me to w rite it, the positions were reversed.

The Brahmin was now above, and the blacksmith, taking in the altered aspect of affairs at a glance, threw himself flat on the gTound, and tried the same tactics as his opponent. The different play of the two men now came strongly into relief. Instead of exhausting himself with useless efforts, Roopnarain, while keeping a wary eye on every movement of his prostrate foe, contented himself, while he took breath, with coolly and yet determinedly making his grip secure. Putting out one leg then within reach of his opponent's hand as a lure, he saw the blacksmith stretch forth to grasp the tempting hold.

Quicker than the dart of the python, the tierce onset of the kingly tiger, the sudden flash of the forked and quivering lightning, was the grasp made at the outstretched arm by the practised Brahmin. His tenacious fingers closed tightly round the other's wrist. One sudden wrench, and he had the blacksmith's arm bent back and powerless, held down on the little fellow's own shoulders. Pat smiled a derisive smile, K. uttered what was not a benison, while the Brahmins in the crowd, and all Pat's men, raised a truly Hindoo howl of joy. The position of the men was now this. The stout little man was flat on his face, one of his arms bent helplessly round on his own back. Roopnarain, calm and cool as ever, was astride the prostrate blacksmith, placidly surveying the crowd. The little man writhed and! twisted and struggled, he tried with his legs to entwine himself with those of the Brahmin. He tried to spin round; the Brahmin was watching with the eye of a hawk for a grip of the other arm, but it was closely drawn in, and firmly pressed in safety under the heaving chest of the blacksmith. The muscles were of steel; it could not be dislodged: that was seen at a glance. The calmness and placidity of the old athlete was surprising, it was wonderful. Still bending the imprisoned arm further back, he put his knee on the neck of the poor little hero, game as a pebble through it all, and by a strong steady strain tried to bend him over, till we thought either the poor fellow's neck must break, or his arm be torn from its socket.

He endured all without a murmur. Not a chance did lie throw away. Once or twice he made a splendid effort; once he tried to catch the Brahmin again by the leg. Roopnarain pounced down, but the arm was as quickly within its shield. It was now but a question of time and endurance. Every dodge that he was master of did the Brahmin bring into play. They were both in perfect training, muscles as hard as steel, every nerve and sinew strained to the utmost tension. Roopnarain actually tried tickling Ins man, but lie would not give him a chance. At length he got his hand in the bent elbow of the free arm, and slowly and laboriously forced it out. There were tremendous spurts and struggles, but patient determination was not to be baulked. Slowly the arm came up over the hack, the struggle was tremendous, but at length both the poor fellow's arms were tightly pinioned behind his back. He was powerless now. The Brahmin drew the two arms backwards, towards the head of the poor little fellow, and he was bound to come over or hav e both his arms broken. With a hoarse cry of sobbing pain and shame, the brave little man came over, both shoulders on the mould, and the scientific old veteran was again the victor.

This is but a very faint description of a true wrestling bout, among the robust dwellers in these remote villages. It may seem cruel, but it is to my mind the perfection of muscular strength and skill, combined with keen subtle, intellectual acuteness. It brings every faculty of mind and body into action, it begets a healthy honest love of fair play, and an admiration of endurance and pluck, two qualities of which Englishmen certainly can boast. Strength without skill and training will not avail. It is a fine manly sport, and one which should he encouraged by all who wish well to our dusky fellow subjects in the far-off plains and valleys of Hindostan.


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