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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter XVI


Indigo seed growing —Seed feuying and buyers—Tricks of sellers—Tests for good seed—The threshing-floor—Seed cleaning and packing—Stati of servants—Despatching the bags by boat—The "Pooneah" or rent-day— Purneah planters — their hospitality — The rent-day a great festival—Preparation—Collection of rents—Feast to retainers—The reception in the evening—Tribute—Old customs—Improvisatores and bards—Nautches—Dancing and music—The dance of the Dangurs— Jugglers and itinerary showmen—"Bara Koopes," or actors and mimics—Their different styles of acting.

Besides indigo planting proper, there is another large branch of industry in North Bhaugulpore and along the Nepaul frontier there, and in Purneah, namely, the growing of indigo seed for the Bengal planters. The system of advances and the mode of cultivation is much the same as that followed in indigo planting proper. The seed is sown in June or July, is weeded and tended all through the rains, and cut in December. The planters advance about four-rupees a beegah to the ryot, who cuts his seed plant, and brings it into the factory threshing-ground, where it is beaten out, cleaned, weighed, and packed in bags. When the seed has been threshed out and cleaned, it is weighed, and the ryot or cultivator gets four rupees for every maund —a maund being eighty pounds avoirdupois. The previous advance is deducted. The rent or loan account is adjusted, and the balance made over in cash.

Others grow the seed on their own account, without taking advances, and bring it to the factory for sale. If prices are ruling high, they may get much more than four rupees per maund for it, and they adopt all kinds of ingenious devices to adulterate the seed, and increase its weight. They mix dust with it, seeds of weeds, even grains of wheat, and mustard, pea, and other seeds. In buying seed, therefore, one has to be very careful, to reject all that looks bad, or that may have been adulterated. They will even get old useless seed, the refuse stock of former years, and, mixing this with leaves of the neem tree and some turmeric powder, give it a gloss that makes it look like fresh seed.

"When you suspect that the seed has been tampered with in this manner, you wet some of it, and rub it on a piece of fresh clean linen, so as to bring off the dye. Where the attempt has been flagrant, you are sometimes tempted to take the law into your own hands, and administer a little of the castigation which the cheating rascal so richly deserves. In other cases it is necessary to submit the seed to a microscopic examination. If any old, worn seeds are detected, you reject the sample unhesitatingly. Even when the seed appears quite good, you subject it to yet another test. Take one or two hundred seeds, and, putting them on a damp piece of the pith of a plantain tree, mixed with a little earth, set them in a warm place, and in two days you will be able to tell what percentage has germinated, and what is incapable of germination. If the percentage is good, the seed may be considered as fairly up to the sample, and it is purchased. There are native seed buyers, who try to get as much into their hands as they can and rig the market. There are also European buyers, and there is a keen rivalry in all the bazaars.

The threshing-floor and seed-cleaning ground presents a busy sight when several thousand maunds of seed are being got ready for despatch by boats. The dirty seed, full of dust and other impurities, is heaped up in one corner. The floor is in the shape of a large square, nicely paved with cement, as hard and clean as marble. Crowds of nearly nude coolies hurry to and fro with scoops of seed resting on their shoulders. When tliev get in line, at right angles to the direction i;.i which the wind is blowing, they move slowly along, letting the seed descend on the heap below, while the wind winnows it, and carries the dust in dense clouds to leeward. This is repeated over and over again, till the seed is as clean as it can be made. It is put through bamboo sieves, so formed that any seed larger than indigo cannot pass through. What remains in the sieve is put aside, and afterwards cleaned, sorted, and sold as food, or if useless, thrown away or given to the fowls. The men and boys dart backwards and forwards, there is a steady drip, drip, of seed from the scoops, dense clouds of dust, and incessant noise and bustle. Peons or watchmen are stationed all around to see that none is wasted or stolen. Pome are tilling sacks full of the cleaned seed, and hauling them off to the weighman and his clerk. Two maunds are put in every back, and when weighed the bags are hauled up close to the godown or store-room. Here are an army of men with sail-makers' needles and twine. They sew up the bags, which are then hauled away to be marked with the factory brand. Carts are coming and going, carrying bags to the boats, which are lying at the river bank taking in their cargo, and the returning carts bring back loads of wood from the banks of the river. In one corner, under a shed, sits the sahib chaffering with a party of paikars (seed merchants), who have brought seed for sale.

Of course he decries the seed, says it is bad, will not hear of the price wanted, and laughs to scorn all the fervent pretestations that the seed was grown on their own ground, and has never passed through any hands but their own. If you are satisfied that the seed is good, you secretly name your price to your head man, who forthwith takes up the work of depreciation. You move off to some other department of the work. The head man and the merchants sit down, perhaps smoke a hookah, each trying to outwit the other, but after a keen encounter of wits perhaps a bargain is made. A pretty fair price is arrived at, and away goes the purchased seed, to swell the heap at the other end of the yard. It has to be carefully weighed first, and the weighman gets a little from the vendor as his perquisite, which the factory takes from him at the market rate.

You have buyers of your own out in the dehaat (district), and the parcels they have bought come in hour by hour, with invoices detailing all particulars of quantity, quality, and price. The loads from the seed depots and outworks come rolling up in the afternoon, and have all to be weighed, checked, noted down, and examined. Every man's hand is against you. You cannot trust your own serv ants. For a paltry bribe they will try to pass a bad parcel of seed, and even when you have your European assistants to help you, it is hard work to avoid being overreached in some shape or other.

You have to keep up a large staff of writers, who make out invoices and accounts, and keep the books. Your correspondence alone is enough work for one man, and you have to tally hags, count coolies, see them paid their daily wage, attend to lawsuits that may be going on, and yet find time to superintend the operations of the farm, and keep an eye to your rents and revenues from the villages. It is a busy, an anxious time. You have a vast responsibility on your shoulders, and when one takes into consideration the climate you have to contend with, the home comforts and domestic joys you have to do "without, the constant tension of mind and irritation of body from dust, heat, insects, lies, bribery,, robbers, and villainy of every description, that meets you on all hands, it must be allowed that a planter at such a time, has no easy life.

The time at which you despatch the seed is also the very time when you are preparing your land for spring sowings. This requires almost as much surveillance as the seed-buying and despatching. Yon have not a moment you can call your own. It" you had subordinates you could trust, who would be faithful and honest, you could safely leave part of the work to them, hut from very sad experience I have found that trusting to a native is trusting to a very rotten stick. They are certainly not all bad, but there are just enough exceptions to prove the rule.

One peculiar custom prevailed in this border district of North Bhaugulpore, which I have not observed elsewhere. At the beginning of the financial year, when the accounts of the past season had all been made up ami arranged, and the collection of the rents for the new year was beginning, the planters and Zemindars held what what was called the Pooneah. It is customary for all cultivators and tenants to pay a proportion of their rent in advance. The Pooneah might therefore be called *' rent-day." A similar day is set apart for the same purpose in Tirlioot, called tounce or collections, but it is not attended by the same ceremonious observances and quaint customs, as attach to the Pooneah on the border land.

When every man's account has been made up and checked by the books, the Pooneah day is fixed on. Invitations are sent to all your neighbouring friends, who look forward to each other's annual Pooneah as a great gala day. In North Bhaugulpore and Purneah, nearly all the planters and English-speaking population belong to old families who hav e been born in the district, and have settled and lived there long before the days of quick communication with home. Their rule among their dependents is patriarchal. Everyone is known among the natives, who have seen him since his birth living amongst them, by some pet name. The old men of the villages remember his father and his fathers father, the younger villagers have had him pointed out to them on their visits to the factory as "Willie Baba," - "Freddy Baba," or whatever his boyish name may have been, with the addition of "Baba," which is simply a pet name for a child. These planters know every village for miles and miles. They know most of the leading men in each village by name. The villagers know all about them, discuss their affairs with the utmost freedom, and not a single thing, ever so trivial, happens in the planter's home but it is known and commented on in all the villages that lie within the ilaka (jurisdiction) of the factory.

The hospitality of these planters is unbounded. They are most of them much liked by all the natives round. I came a "stranger amongst them," and in one sense, and not a flattering sense, they tried "to take me in," but only in one or two instances, which I shall not specify here. By nearly all I was welcomed, and kindly treated, and I formed some very lasting friendships among them. Old traditions of princely hospitality still linger among them. They were clannish in the best sense of the word. The kindness and attention given to aged or indigent relations was one of their best traits. I am afraid the race is fast dying out. Lavish expenditure and a too confiding faith in their native dependents has often brought the usual result. But many of my readers will associate with the name of Purneah or Bhaugulpore planter, recollections of hospitality and unostentatious kindness, and memories of glorious sport and warmhearted friendships.

On the Pooneah day then, or the night before, many of these friends would meet. The day has long been known to all the villages round, and nothing could better show the patriarchal semi-feudal style in which they ruled over their villages than the customs in connection with this anniversary. Some days before it, requisitions have been made on all the villages in any way connected with the factory for various articles of diet. The herdsmen have to send a tribute of milk, curds, and ghee or clarified butter. Cultivators of root crops or fruit send in samples of their produce, in the shape of huge bundles of plantains, immense jack-fruits, or baskets of sweet potatoes, yam and other vegetables. The koomkar or potter has to send in earthen pots and jars. The mochee or worker in leather brings with him a sample of his work in the shape of a pair of shoes. These are pounced on by your servants and omlah, the omlah being the head mar. in the office. It is a tine time for them. "Wooden shoes, umbrellas, brass pots, fowls, goats, fruits, in fact all the productions of your country side are sent or brought in. It is the old feudal tribute of the middle ages back again. During the day the cvtchrrry or office is crowded with the more respectable villagers, paying in rents and settling accounts. The noise and bustle are great, but in immense quantity of work is got through.

The "village putwarrie* and head men are all there with their voluminous accounts. Your rent-collector, called a Uhtetldar, has been busy in the villages with the tenants and putwarries, collecting rent for the great Pooneah day. There is a constant chink of money, a busy hum, a scratching of innumerable pens. Under every tree, 'neath the shade of every hut, busy groups are squatted round some acute accountant. Totals are being totted up on all hands. Prom greasy recesses in the waistband a dirty bundle is slowly pulled forth, and the desired sum reluctantly counted out.

Prom early morn t'll dewy eve this work goes on, and yon judge your Pooneah to have been a good or bad one by the amount you are able to collect. Peons, with their brass badges flashing in the sun, and their red puggrees showing otf their bronzed faces and black whiskers, are despatched in all directions for defaulters. There is a constant going to and fro, a hurrying anil bustling in the crowd, a hum as of a distant fair pervading the place, and by evening the total of the day's collections is added up, and while the sahib and his friends take their sherry and bitters, the omlah and servants retire to wash and feast, and prepare for the night's festivities.

During the day, at the houses of the omlah, culinary preparations on a vast scale have been going on. The large supplies of grain, rice, flower, fruit, vegetables, &c., which were brought in as salamee or tribute, supplemented by additions from the sahib's own stores, have been made into savoury messes. Curries and cakes, boiled flesh and roast kid, are all ready, and the crowd, having divested themselves of their head-dress and outer garments, and cleaned their hands and feet by copious ablutions, sit down in a wide circle. The large leaves of the water-lily are now served out to each man, and perform the office of plates. Huge baskets of chupatties, a flat sort of "griddle-cake," are now brought round, and each man gets four or five doled out. The cooking and attendance is all done- by Brahmins. No inferior caste would answer, as Rajpoots and other high castes will only eat food that has been cooked by a Brahmin or one of their own class. The Brahmin attendants now come round with great dekchees or cooking-pots, full of curried vegetables, boiled rice, and similar dishes. A ladleful is handed out to •each man, who receives it on his leaf. The rice is served out by the hands of the attendants. The guests manipulate a huge ball of rice and curry mixed between the fingers of the right hand, pass this solemnly into their widely-gaping mouths, with the head thrown back to receive the mess, like an adjutant-bird swallowing a frog, and then they masticate with much apparent enjoyment. Sugar, treacle, curds, milk, oil, butter, preserves and chutnees are served out to the more wealthy and respectable. The amount they can consume is wonderful. Seeing the enormous supplies, you would think that even this great crowd could never get through theiri, but by the time repletion has set in, there is little or nothing left, and many of the inflated and distended old farmers could begin again and repeat "another of the same" with ease. Each person lias his own lotah, a brass drinking vessel, and when all have eaten they again wash their hands, rinse out their mouths, and don their gayest apparel.

The gentlemen in the bungalow now get word that the evening's festivities are about to commence. Lighting our cigars, we sally out to the sha.miana. which has been erected on the ridge, surrounding the deep tank which supplies the factory during the manufacturing season with water. The shamiana is a large canopy or wall-less tent. It is festooned with ilowers and green plantain trees, and evergreens have been planted all round it. Flaring flambeaux, torches, Chinese lanterns, and oil lamps flicker and glare, and make the interior almost a-s bright as day. When we arrive we lind our chairs drawn up in state, one raised seat in the centre being the place of honour, and reserved for the manager of the factory.

When we are seated, the make or gardener advances with a wooden tray tilled with sand, in which are stuck heads of all the finest flowers the garden can afford, placed in the most symmetrical patterns, and really a pretty tasteful piece of workmanship. Two or three old Brahmins, principal among whom is " Hureehar Jha," a wicked old scoundrel, now advance, bearing gay garlands of flowers, muttering a strange gibberish in Sanskrit, supposed to be a blessing, but which might be a curse for all we understood of it, and decking our wrists and necks with these strings of flowers. For this service they get a small gratuity. The factory omlah, headed by the dignified, portly gomasthla or confidential adviser, dressed in snowy turbans and spotless white, now come forward. A large brass tray stands on the table in front of you. They each present a salamee or nvzzur, that is, a tribute or present, which you touch, and it is then deposited with a rattling jingle on the brass plate. The head men of villages, putwarries, and wealthy tenants, give two, three, and sometimes even four rupees. Every tenant of respectability thinks it incumbent on him to give something. Every man as he comes up makes a low salaam, deposits his salamee, his name is written down, and he retires. The putwarries present two rupees each, shouting out their names, and the names of their villages. Afterwards a small assessment is levied on the villagers, of a "pice" or two "pice" each, about a halfpenny of our money, and which recoups the putwarree for his outlay.

This has nothing to do with the legitimate revenue of the factory. It never appears in the books. It is quite a voluntary offering, and I have never seen it in any other district. In the meantime the Jiajthats, a wandering class of hereditary minstrels or bards, are singing your praises and those of your ancestors in ear-splitting strains. Some of them have really good voices, all possess the gift of improvisation, and are quick to seize on the salient points of the scene before them, and weave them into their song, sometimes in a very ingenious and humorous manner. They are often employed by rich natives, to while away a long night with one of their treasured rhythmical tales or songs. One or two are kept in the retinue of every Rajah or noble, and they possess a mine of legendary information, which would be invaluable to the collector of folk-lore and antiquarian literature.

At some of the Pooneahs the evening's gaiety winds up with a nautch or dance, by dancing girls or boys. I always thought this a most sleep-inspiring exhibition. It has been so often described that I need not trouble my readers w ith it. The women are gaily dressed in brocades and gauzy textures, and glitter with spangles and tawdry ornaments. The musical accompaniment of clanging zither, asthmatic fiddle, timber-toned drum, clanging cymbal, and harsh metallic-triangle, is a sore affliction, and when the dusky prima donna throws back her head, extends her chest, gets up to her high note, with her hand behind her ear, and her paun-stained month and teeth wide expanded like the jaws of a fangless wolf, while the demoniac instruments and performers redouble their din, the noise is something too dreadful to experience often. The native women sit mute and hushed, seeming to like it. I have heard it said that the Germans eat ants. Finlanders relish penny candles. The Nepaulese gourinan-dise on putrid fish. I am myself fond of mouldy cheese, and organ-grinders are an object of affection with some of our home community. I know that the general run of natives delight in a nautcli. Tastes differ, but to me it is an inexplicable phenomenon.

Amid all this noise we sit till we are wearied Faun-leaves and betel nut are handed round by the servants. There is a very sudorific odour from the crowd. All are comfortably seated on the ground. The torches flare, and send up volumes of smoke to the ornamented roof of the canopy. The lights are reflected in the deep glassy bosom of the silent tank. The combined sounds and odours get oppressive, and we are glad to get back to the bungalow, to consume our "peg" and our "weed" in the congenial company of our friends.

In some factories the night closes with a gTand dance by all the inhabitants of the datvjur tola. The men and women range themselves in two semicircles, standing opposite each other. The tallest of both lines at the one end, diminishing away at the other extremity to the children and little ones who can scarcely toddle. They have a wild, plaintive song, with swelling cadences and abrupt stops. They go through an extraordinary variety of evolutions, stamping with one foot and keeping perfect time. They sway their bodies, revolve, march, and countermarch, the men sometimes opening tlieir ranks, and the women going through, and vice versa. They turn round like the winding convolutions of a shell, increase their pace as the song waxes quick and shrill, get excited, and finish oiF with a resounding stamp of the foot, and a guttural cry which seems to exhaust all the breath left in their bodies. The men then get some liquor,, and the women a small money present. If the sahib is very liberal he gives them a pig on which to feast, and the dangurs go away very happy and contented. Their dance is not unlike the corroborry of the Australian aborigines. The two races are not unlike each other too in feature, although I cannot tbink that they are in any way connected.

Next morning there is a jackal hunt, or cricket, or pony races, or shooting matches, or sport of some kind, while the rent collection still goes on. In the afternoon we have grand wrestling matches amongst the natives for small prizes, and generally witness some tine exhibitions of athletic skill and endurance.

Some wandering juggler may have been attracted by the rumour of the gathering. A tight-rope dancer, a snake charmer, an itinerant showman with a performing goat, monkey, or dancing bear, may make his appearance before the admiring crowd.

At times a party of mimes or actors come round, and a rare treat is not seldom afforded by the bara roopecs, Bara means twelve, and roop is an impersonation, a character. These " twelve characters " make up in all sorts of disguises. Their wardrobe is very limited, yet the number of people they personate, and their genuine acting talent would astonish you, "With a projecting tooth and a few streaks of clay, they make up as a withered, trembling old hag, afflicted with palsy, rheumatism, and a haeking cough. They make friends with your bearer, and an old hat and coat transforms them into a planter, a missionary, or an officer. They whiten their faces, using false hair and moustache, am I while you are chatting with your neighbour, a strange sahib suddenly and mysteriously seats himself by your side. You stare, and look at your host, who is generally in the secret, but a stranger, 01 new coiner, is often completely taken in. It 4s generally at night that they go through their personations, and when they have dressed for their part, they generally choose a moment when your attention is attracted by a cunning diversion. On looking up you are astounded to find some utter stranger standing behind your chair, or stalking solemnly round the room.

They personate a woman, a white lady, a sepoy policeman, almost any character. Some are especially good at mimicking the Bengalee Baboo, or the merchant from Cabool or Afghanistan with his fruits and cloths. A favourite roep with them is to paint one half of the face like a man. Everything is complete down to moustache, the folds of the puggree, the lathee or staff, indeed to the slightest detail. You would fancy you saw a stalwart, strapping Hindoo before you. He turns round, and lo, a bashful maiden. Her eyes are. stained with henna (myrtle juice) or antimony. Her long hair neatly smoothed down i.s tied into a knot at the back, and glistens with the pearl-like ornaments. The taper arm is loaded with armlets and bracelets. The very toes are. bedecked with rings. The bodice hides the taper waist and budding bosom, the tiny ear is loaded with jewelled earrings, the very nose is not forgotten, but is ornamented with a golden circle, bearing on its circumference a pearl of great price. The art, the posturing, the mimicry, is really admirable. A good hara roopee is well worth seeing, and amply earns the two or three rupees he gets as bis reward.

The Rooneah seldom lasts more than the two days, but it is quite unique in its feudal character, and is one of the old-fashioned observances; a relic of the time when the planter was really looked upon as the father of his people, and when a little sentiment and mutual affection mingled with the purely business relations of landlord and tenant.

I delighted my ryots by importing some of our own country recreations, and setting the ploughmen to compete against each other. I stuck a greasy bamboo firmly into the earth, putting a bag of copper coins at the top. Many tried to climb it, but when they came to the grease they came down "by the run." One fellow, however, filled his kummerbund with sand, and after much exertion managed to secure the prize. Wheeling the barrow blindfold also gave much amusement, and we made some boys bend their foreheads down to a stick and run round till they were giddy. Their ludicrous efforts then to jump over some water-pots, and run to a thorny bush, raised tumultuous peals of laughter. The poor boys generally smashed the pots, and ended by tumbling into the thorns.


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