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Tent Life in Tigerland
Chapter XIV - Caste Characteristics


Curiosities of the census—Quaint characters—The Bohemians of the East — Mendicant friars—Actors and jugglers—The Story Teller—"After a wary day"—A visitor in camp—His appearance—His receptii in—The gaping circle of listeners—The story—"Petumber and Mahaboobun"— The story of their love—A rival- —Plot and counterplot—The drama develops—Petumber's sudden return—Confusion of the wicked plotter— Jealousy—Wifely fidelity—The darkened bath chamber—Assumption of a strange character—The furious sandal—Crack!—"T mg-ng-ng!" —Acting up to his character—"Ulug-glug-glng!" — Another good story—"The Brahmin and the Bunneah"--Sanctity and pretensions of the Brahmins—Their pow er on the wane—Progress of mi idem thought—An enlightened Hindoo on the decadence of priestcraft— Bentlicence of British rule.

It is a trite observation that "one half the world does not know how the other half live," and certainly it is very applicable in regard to many of the modes of livelihood practised in what the poet calls the "gorgeous East." To the student of human nature, or to a contemplative philosopher, the mere nomenclature of callings in the Indian census would give rise to many curious speculations.

There is, for instance, the Haddick, or Bone-setter, corresponding to our veterinary surgeon, but with this difference, that the Indian bone-setter relies chiefly on the efficacy of certain mantras or charms, and curious medicaments which have been handed down to him through a long series of generations, and which are supposed to possess some, occult virtue, which, when applied under certain conditions which are rigidly prescribed by tradition, -will effect a cure. Matrimonial agents are quite common. Public scriveners, or writers of correspondence for love-sick swains and modest maidens, may be found in every bazaar.

Of course the snake-charmer is a character which is never by any chance left out of any book treating of the East. Professional witch-finders—Ojahs, as they are called—are also common to every village community, although to English readers they recall a state of things now happily passed away from our history.

Byragees, jogees, fakirs, the whole fraternity, that is, of mendicant monks, hare-brained religions enthusiasts, begging friars, and transcendental nostrum-mongers, come across your path in every direction, and number frequently among their ranks some of the veriest scoundrels in all the Eastern world, who find the garb of the religious anchorite a convenient cloak to cover designs of the deepest rascality.

Even amongst these wandering devotees there are numberless orders and sub-sections, all of whom have well-defined and specific functions.

Some are known by marks peculiar to the worship of certain gods and goddesses emblazoned on some prominent part of their persons—breast, forehead, arms, &c., &c.

Many of these wandering mendicants doubtless belong to organised gangs, affiliated to each other by passwords and signs.

Put in all large aggregations of humanity in the East they are sure to catch the eye by reason of their wild outlandish look, their strange manners or extravagant dress, or some distinctive difference winch separates them from the common herd.

Then there is the counterpart of the old Roman augur or soothsayer, one of whom is attached to every menage of any great importance in an Indian province.

There are beings like the old witch of Endor, who profess

to be able "to summon spirits from the vasty deep," and whose services are more often called into requisition than the casual observer might imagine.

There is the Master of Ceremonies, who will take charge of any feast or merry-making you may wish to give to your retainers or friends. There is the Bam Boopeah, i.e. literally, the man of twelve changes, who will masquerade for you or your guests in twelve or more guises. He will assume all sorts of characters: make himself, by a Protean twist of countenance, or readjustment of dress, a lady of fashion, a woman of low degree, a hireling dancer, a policeman, a planter, an angel or a demon, just as may suit the whim of the actor, or the requirements of the audience.

Then there is the professional well-sinker, who does nothing but sink wells, diving down in the water like a seal or an otter, scooping out the sand or soil from beneath the massive wooden plates from which the superincumbent girth of the well is made, thus allowing it to sink by slow degrees.

There is the bear leader, with his muzzled great brown bear from the mountain districts, trained to dance for the delectation of the village youngsters. There is the professional hawker—not the pedlar who peddles wares as with us "Western nations, but the man who hawks—who trains the gerfalcon and the kestrel, and who is in fact the modern prototype of the old falconer of mediaival story.

The dyer, the potter, the weaver, the Nooneah, or saltpetre maker, the caster of nets, the weaver of the same, the mender of ditto, the village barber, the man who pares your nails, the professor of heraldry who will write you out a genealogy suitable to your circumstances ami varying in splendour according to the amount of our remuneration, are of course common occupations, and such as might be expected.

All these, and numberless other castes and subdivisions of castes, ply their busy vocations in the populous East, and are all recognised under the iron thraldom of that curious caste system which is at once the wonder and reproach, the shackle and the salvation, according as it is looked at by different minds, of the marvellous social cosmogony of the Hindoo world. But among all the multifarious occupations which come under the purview of an observant "dweller in tents " in an Indian district, none appeal more quickly to a man of keen observation than the numerous classes who make their livelihood (often very precarious) by ministering to the amusement of the people.

The musicians, the astrologers, the wizards, the enchanters, the quacks, the acrobats, the bear leaders, the prophets and soothsayers, the dancers and posture-makers, the snake-charmers, sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, bards, improvisatores, reciters of ancient legends, the singers, and the thousand-and-one Bohemians, who drift about in the by-wash of the great surging flood of humanity that rolls ceaselessly around the dweller in the East—all these appeal at once to your sense of the incongruous, to your sense of the picturesque, and being so utterly different from anything we have in our conventional Western civilisation, they challenge the attention, and attract the inquiry of the observer at once. Whole chapters could be written describing their peculiarities, whimsical instances connected with the pursuit of their vocations; and, indeed, many a time in my lonely life in India I have been under a deep debt of gratitude to many a one of these poor wandering performers, who have wooed me out of sad reflections or gloomy meditations by their mirth-inspiring antics, or their clever impersonations and really marvellous tricks. Of the jugglers alone, a whole book might be written.

The sleight of hand of the East is incomparably more finished and artistic, seeing that it is done in most cases with the aid of no paraphernalia whatever, than anything we are accustomed to in Europe.

But I never remember to have enjoyed a more hearty laugh than at the recital on one memorable occasion of a most ridiculous story by one of these wandering professional raconteurs, and which I will, with the reader's permission, now endeavour to reproduce.

I cannot hope to give it with the same drawling mimetic art, which made it so funny in the narration the first time I heard it; but as I have never seen it in print, and think it is new to collectors of these quaint old tales, I venture to give it here.

One night, after a long, weary, hot day's hard work in one of my Belahie villages, trying to come to some settlement with a lot of refractory assaviies, who would neither pay rent nor take advances, and who had subjected my good temper and patience to a prolonged and severe strain, I had gone out in the evening to have a shot at some ducks which had been observed by my servants in the vicinity of a shallow lagoon near my camp. I had found the brutes shy and wary. I had shot at several snipe and missed everyone, and had got bogged up to the middle in a quaking miry clinging morass. My gun had been badly cleaned, and was kicking like a borrowed horse. The fact is, everything had gone against me. My liver was out of order, I was in a despondent frame of mind, and—must I confess it?—in a desperately bad temper.

To add to my troubles, my dakman had not brought my usual mail from the head factory. I had nothing to read, and, saddest fate of all, had nothing to drink and was short of tobacco.

I had got back to the tents, bathed, had dinner and lay down on my camp bed, restless, discontented and weary, but withal in a very sleepless mood. The dogs were all tied up at some distance away, and had been fed by the mahter or sweeper. My servants had finished their evening meal, and with the points of their chvjjkuns—a sort of tight boddice— unloosed, were enjoying the otium cum dignitate of a well-earned rest, and were chatting together narrating the events of the day; when suddenly on my irritated nerves there broke the sound of a cheery persistent voice, trolling the well-known patter, in a sing-song nasal tone, of one of these professional story-tellers.

My first impulse was to get up and kick the fellow out of the precincts of the camp.

I felt so thoroughly "hipped" myself, that I seemed to take it as a personal insult that anybody in such a weary hot night, amid all the depressing surroundings, should dare to be cheerful.

There must, however, have been some subtle magnetic influence or spell in the very tones of the fellow's voice; as presently, raising myself languidly on my elbow, I found myself surveying with some little interest, through the open sides of the tent, the appearance of the new-comer.

He was a grizzled, sun-dried, weather-beaten old fellow, clad in the most tattered raiment possible, having a greasy skull cap on his head, merry eyes peeping over a network of wrinkles on each cheek, a broken nose surmounting a gaping cavern of a mouth, in the inner excavations of which could be seen two or three yellow glimmering stumps, and altogether the man looked like a good-natured gnome, some such apparition as might have been expected to have jumped out bodily from a page of Hans Andersen; and before I well knew whether to forbid his nearer approach or not, he, seemingly quite oblivious of my presence, passed the door of the tent, and with an air of easy familiarity, making himself quite at home, squatted down by the side of my retainers, who were now wide awake, and gave the man all the hearty welcome due to an old acquaintance, and one who was evidently a well known character amongst them.

I lay back and watched.

The usual salutations passed. The new-comer, with the dexterous ease of a man who knows human nature thoroughly well, and as if by the exercise of some magic art, was presently the recipient of a bit of native leaf tobacco from this one, a little chunam from that one, and betel mit from a third, and indeed all seemed anxious to press something upon him.

My old bearer gravely took the mouth-piece of his hubble bubble from his lips, and offered it to the old fellow, who took two or three whiffs.

The old Khansammah, or Butler, Mussulman though he was, came over with Ins attendant, from where they had been lying apart; and tying up the points of his chupkum as he advanced, he made the usual grave Mussulman's salutation, and stroking his beard with the air of one who is expecting to hear some good thing, he joined the gathering circle.

My syce and "grass cuts," who had been busy combing their well-oiled locks and titivating themselves generally, suspended the operations of their toilet and gathered around. Even my grave and dignified old raoonshec seemed to have felt the impulse of some subtle charm, for he too, with one or two of the village patwarris, or accountants, came up i 1 their reverent fashion, with their flowing white robes around them, and gave a pleasant nod of welcome to the merry-looking little dried chip, who seemed so suddenly to have become the cynosure of all eyes. By this time my mearims had almost vanished. I had forgotten all about my liver, and I found myself sitting up on my pallet, with my ears and my senses on the qui rive, in the endeavour to find out what was going on.

Through the half-open Khanats, I could see without being myself perceived.

The servants seemed to fancy that I must be sound asleep, and after cracking sundry jokes which seemed to put all his audience in a good humour, a supplicatory chorus went up from every voice, beseeching him to tell them a story.

Now I cannot hope, as I have said, to reproduce the action, the gestures, the facial expression, the inimitable drollery of the raconteur.

The man was a horn actor. Two or three times I found myself heaving with silent laughter, as he illustrated the various points of his narration. But this was the story—and you must just take it in my halting imperfect way; and indeed my only object in occupying your time by giving it, is because I think the whole picture is one peculiarly characteristic of tent life in an Indian frontier district, and may serve a useful purpose in bringing strongly before the mental eye of the reader, some presentment of the living reality of the life we lead in the remote villages of such an Indian planting district as I have been endeavouring to describe.

The old fellow had a curious habit, when he seemed to be searching for a word, of making a quaint clicking sound with his tongue, then lie would cock his head to one side like a magpie. lie would wag his old noddle, loll Ins tongue out from amid his gleaming stumps, moistening lis dry lips, leeringly roll his beady twinkling eyes around, winking at his audience ; shrug his shoulders like a French dancing-master, sway his body in unison with the incidents of the story ; and altogether seemed to mesmerize his audience into complete accord with the varying developments of his plot; and to tell the honest truth, I must confess that I never heard a story better told, sweeping as the assertion may appear, and J never enjoyed any narration with a keener relish, than that of this cunning old artist as he related the following tale. Thus he began:

"There was once in a village, which I will not name, a man whom I shall call Petumber." I must give it in the following words but naturally the story loses a great deal of force by the translation.

"Petumber was a great strong soft-hearted fellow, who was the best runner and the best wrestler, but the kindest-hearted young man in the village, always willing to help a neighbour in a difficulty."

And here followed a long description of the various kindly acts Petumber was wont to do to his neighbours.

For instance this was one. An old woman who was shrewdly suspected of being a witch, had a favourite nanny-goat which had fallen into a well, and at the risk of his life Petumber had been lowered down, and rescued the unfortunate beast.

"Well, time went on, and, as will happen to young men, Petumber fell in love—with whom think ye? Maii.vbooulN, the loveliest fay of all the village, daughter of a rich freeholder; and being a finely-made, good-looking young man, having a fair patrimony, numerous cows and a fair amount of plough bullocks, his suit was looked upon with some degree of favour by Malraboobun's relations, and he had reason to believe he was not altogether uninteresting to the fair Maliaboobun herself."

Put there was an Iago in the case.

Of course he was the exact antithesis of Petumber. This rival was a swarthy, beetled-browed, bandy-legged character, whose name was Bal Khrishun, and he also had set his affections on the peerless Mahaboobun. In the wrestling matches in the village arena, things were so equally balanced, that although Petumber was the stronger of the two, Bal Khrishun knew more tricks of the ring, and sometimes was able to snatch a dubious victory from the broad-chested, open-hearted Petumber by cunning and stratagem, but never by fair and open play.

Of course Bal Khrrishun was painted as a very Machiavelli—a double-faced, cowardly, chicken-hearted, scheming scoundrel.

Then came a recountal of all the black deeds he had done.

He was a usurer; he was constantly fomenting strife among parties in the village, and altogether quite up to the usual three-volume touch as the villain of the piece.

He seemed however to have acquired some strange malign ascendency over the gentle Maliaboobun, by working on her fears and her timid half-confessed preference for Petumber, inasmuch as he continually let drop veiled threats and vague hints as to some evil that he could bring over Petumber, and he skilfully contrived to make the poor girl to some extent put herself in a false position by his cunning strategy, that she appeared to listen to his addresses, while in reality she only dissembled, to appease if she might his malignant nature.

This part of the story was very cleverly worked out, and the old man managed to bring his hearers, and myself too, to a perfect pitch of interest as he described how on one occasion Petumber came upon Bal Khrishun making overtures to his lady love, which she with tears feebly endeavoured to resist, anil Petumber's righteous indignation being roused at the sight of Mahahoobun's evident perturbation, he smote his cowardly rival to the earth, and left him muttering dire threats of revenge.

Subsequently the two young lovers were united in the sacred bonds of wedlock, and Bal Khrishun registered his vow of vengeance, and commenced to scheme against the wedded peace of the loving couple.

By a series of skilful combinations, by hints and innuendoes and cunningly-contrived stratagems, he succeeded in making Maliaboobun rather jealous of her lord.

Then he contrived to beguile Petumber away to a distant part of the country, on a pretext that a distant relation was at the point of death, and wished to leave Petumber some money.

Meanwhile a kindly fairy in the shape of the old woman, whose goat had been rescued from the well, appeared on the scene, and began to play a hand in the game.

She had not been an unobservant spectator of the duplicity that was being practised by the wily and unscrupulous, yet cowardly Bal Khrishun.

Petumber's rascally rival hail in fact arranged to carry off Maliaboobun vi et armis.

A litter borne by soxne "lewd fellows of the baser sort," who were in his pay, and attached to his service, was to be in readiness in the mango tope, at a given hour, and under the pretext that Petumber had sustained a severe accident, and was wishful to see his loved Maliaboobun before he died, she was to be inveigled into the litter away from her home, under the charge of the seemingly good Samaritan, the perfidious Bal Khrishum.

The old woman, however, had got an inkling of what was going on, and intercepting Petumber on his journey, gave him sufficient warning of the plot that was being hatched against his domestic peace, to make him at once change his plans and hurry back.

All this was sketched out with infinite art, by the merry old story-teller, and I had, as I hope my reader has, become quite interested in the development of the plot.

My group of servants were listening with open mouths. Now and then they would laugh heartily at some quaint allusion, or some skilful touch thrown off by the story-teller, and anon they would hold their breath as the interest of the drama thickened.

And so we come back to the habitation of Petumber, which was, as Eastern houses go, large and commodious, with several apartments, and attached to the sleeping-room, one of those cool, retiring resorts, known as the oJwosoJ JcJiana, or bath-room. Around one side of this room were ranged a number of tall, portly brass water pots or jars, quite such as we have been accustomed to read about in the good old story of Ali Paba or the Forty Thieves—just such jars as Ali Paha hid the robbers in, when he scalded them to death with boiling oil.

Well, the wily Bal Khridiun, dressed in his best, and taking advantage of Petumber's absence, came up to put his nefarious scheme into execution. With I suppose a not unnatural coquetry, the fair Maliaboobun, mindful that this was an old flame of hers, and not wishing to ihe too hard upon him, met him with the utmost kindness, and this so raised the wicked desires and vain hopes of the evil-minded Bal Klirishun, that he began to venture on rather dangerous retrospections and began to press his claims upon Maliaboobun's regard, with a slightly greater degree of amorous ardour than was strictly compatible with the relationship winch actually existed between them.

Just at this critical moment, with his heart full of conflicting emotions, boiling with indignation at the duplicity and trickery to which he had so nearly been a victim ; having been fully informed of the plot that was being hatched against his domestic peace by the treacherous Bal Khrishun; Petumber came rushing up to the house in a state of pent-up fury; and Pal Klirishun's coward conscience taking alarm at the sight of the indignant husband striding towards the house, he exclaimed in accents of horror-stricken inquietude, "Arrec Bapre Bap,—Behold Petumber!! What is to be done ?! I Alas! I am a dead man, and you are a ruined woman, unless you hide me from the wrath of your incensed husband." The situation was too critical to allow of calm reflection 01-philosophic thought.

Maliaboobun, not unnaturally, felt to some extent the prickings of conscience, and with a woman's natural wish to avoid bloodshed and strife, acting upon the impulse of the moment, she hurried Bal Klirishun into the ghoosal khana, crammed him down with trembling and hurried fingers among the row of brass pots, and told him for Heaven's sake to assume the character of a brass pot himself, as his very life depended upon it, and if he did not want to ruin her altogether, she would dissemble and find some way of getting him out of this perplexing predicament. Then with a parting injunction to keep up his assumed character, and with a very portentous reminder that Petumber would not hesitate at taking life when once his passions were roused, she left the cowering, trembling, cowardly rascal in the semi-obscurity of the damp ghoosal khana, and hurried out with palpitating heart to meet her incensed lord.

His first word convinced her that concealment was useless, and that he knew all that had transpired.

With choking accents of jealous rage, he demanded that she should produce the miscreant who was endeavouring to sap the foundations of his domestic tranquillity; and she, beseeching him to restrain his impetuosity, made a clean breast of it, and while heaping every epithet of womanly scorn on the head of the miserable Bal Khrishun, whose double-dealing and vile treachery she now clearly saw, she so contrived to reassure her husband of her fidelity and love, that the first quick mad current of his wrath was turned aside, and he determined not to take the life of his rival, but to teach him a lesson which he would not readily forget.

You must bear in mind that alb this was recounted as an actual fact.

The story-teller, if I have succeeded in impressing the reader sufficiently with an estimate of his wonderful skill had now reached the very climax- of his dramatic art.

The auditors were agape with eager interest and attention.

Being informed by the clinging wife that the hated rival was even now in the gfamal khaaa, Petumber strode to the aperture in the wall leading into the inner darkened room, swept aside the drapery which depended from the arch, and bending upwards his brawny leg he took from its place upon his shapely foot the heavy wooden sandal which he wore (a high-heeled, brass-bound, heavy galbadunec, which is worn by travellers when going through the jungles. It has a large wooden stud, which goes between the great toe and the next-one to it, and is very useful in keeping the wearer's bare foot off the ground in going through grass or jungle where snakes might he numerous).

With this in his hand, the angry Petumber, peering into the obscurity, saw the green glare in the eyes of the abject, cowering, and hated Bal Khrishun.

His teeth were chattering with fright, and knowing that his very life depended on his remaining undiscovered, he bent all his thoughts to keep up the assumption of the character of the brass pot, and determined at all hazards to act as if he really were one.

Of course he was in ignorance that Maliaboobun had already divulged his secret. He felt, naturally enough, that his very life depended on his seeming to be for the time a very brass pot, and nothing else. And here the original conception and intense dry humour of the situation comes in.

As quick as thought, Petumber, with unerring aim, launched his heavy sandal straight between the eyes of the luckless Bal Khrishun.

The crack started the blood flowing from his unlucky sconce, but he, true to his assumed character, responded with a loud, sonorous, reverberative "Tung!—tung—ng—ng!"— as the sandal rattled on his skull.

Petumber, thinking that he was being mocked, fancying that he was being made a butt of, and experiencing a redoubled intensity of wrath, took up the other sandal, and sent it flying after its fellow, propelled with all the force of his powerful arm, right between the eyes once again of the hapless Pal Khrishun. This time he could not altogether suppress a stifled groan; but, shaking with terror, and still true to the character he had assumed, lie again sang out " Tung—ng—ng—ng!" The wrath of Petumber now knew no bounds.

Forgetful of prudence and his promise to his wife, and all else, except to thrash his adversary, he seized a stout bamboo stick which stood handy against the wall, and rushed upon the prostrate Bal Khrislmn and with lusty whacks began to belabour his luckless carcase. Still keeping to his self-imposed character, the hapless Lothario began rolling about, imitating a brass pot when it is half full of water and overturned upon the floor.

At every whack "Tung—ng, glug—glug!—tung—ng, glug glug!" came from his miserable lips, until at length human nature could stand it no longer; and after having his body whacked and battered, and Ins nose and face bruised beyond all recognition, he emitted a dismal yell, and rushed from the house as if all the furies were after him, ami was never again seen in the village.

There is such a vein of humour pervading the whole story that I have thought it well to give it at some length. The general idea, I know, is that the village Hindoo is rather a melancholy, saturnine creature, with no sense of humour, but any one who has lived as long as I have amongst the merry residents of the upland districts of Parneah and Bhairgulpore, would soon know how erroneous an estimate this is of native character.

With this, however, I think we may take our leave of the hapless Bal Khrishun. and only hope that Petumber and Maliaboobun lived to a good old age, and saw troops of children growing around them, in peace and quiet prosperity.

It is only fair to state that I gave the narrator a handsome bucksheesh, and certainly felt quite indebted to him for one of the pleasantest evenings I ever remember to have spent in my tent life.

Perhaps it would, not be out of place to conclude this chapter by another rather good story which illustrates the marvellous way in which Western ideas are making progress in the minds of the natives.

It is all very well for half-informed critics at a distance to decry the efforts of missionaries, of schoolmasters, civil servants, planters and merchants, and of the many institutions which,, under the fostering beneficence of British rule, are slowly but surely effecting a real revolution in native modes of life and thought. The influence of Western civilisation is evident in every department of industry in India.

The very food and clothing of this most interesting and conservative people is being affected by the introduction of Western fashions.

All the modern appliances in the arts and sciences are being rapidly introduced.

Municipal institutions flourish in most of the towns, and the criminal law is being administered under a penal code, which, for comprehensiveness and excellence in its provisions, can hardly be excelled in any part of the civilised world. With all this, however, the contrasts one meets with in every Indian district are, as I have already observed, very striking.

Within the sound of the shrill whistle of the locomotive, yon will find a temple dedicated to some horrible eight-armed idol, or possibly decorated with the most obscene sculptures, and consecrated to the procreative forces in nature, within the shelter of whose courtyard deeds of infamy are perpetrated, incredible almost in their horrible obscenity.

These are the dark shades of Paganism, but happily evidences are not wanting to show that the bright beams of "the Sun of Righteousness" are splintering and shivering the gloomy mass of shadow.

Within a few hundred yards of the busy clank of the engine-room of an indigo factory you may haply find a reputed witch, a witch-tinder, a wizard, a magician, an astrologer, or one of these strange and curious castes, a description of which I gave in the opening of this chapter, and the simple villagers are quite ready still to believe that through the mantras or spells of some of these uncanny practitioners, he or she can blight their crops, destroy their cattle, influence their destiny, cast spells, work divinations, and "raise the devil generally."

The Brahmins are of course the reputedly holy and sacred caste.

As among the Levites of old there were different grades, so are there different binds of Brahmins. There are wandering Brahmins, who lead a lazy, vagabondish, itinerant life, certain of a meal wherever they halt for the night, and sure to be made a guest, by virtue of their caste, at any house where they may sojourn, at any time whenever the whim seizes them.

Others are attached to various temples, hold and cultivate the various temple lands, amass wealth from the rich endowments, and, like "Jeshurnn" of old, "wax fat," although they get too lazy even to " kick." Others again officiate as fuinily priests, purohits as they are called.

These get attached to wealthy families, and perform a rule corresponding exactly to that of a domestic chaplain in a wealthy nobleman's family at home.

Brahminism under various modifications is no doubt the religion of the vast mass of Hindoos generally.

The sanctity of the Brahmin, the necessity for his priestly office in all the duties of life, forms the fundamental basis of the gigantic system of sacerdotal supremacy which their superior cunning and organisation have established during the long course of centuries. To refuse a Brahmin food is to call down condign punishment from the skies. To beat him is to consign yourself to an eternity of woe; but to spill his blood, or even to be the remote cause of having his blood spilt, brings down upon your head eternal wrath, which is shared by all your relations who have preceded or may come after you, and actually includes even your neighbours in the evil consequences of such awful impiety. Such is the orthodox faith re Brahmins.

An amusing incident in exemplification of the fact I have just stated, that Western ideas are beginning to permeate the masses, and an illustration of "the little leaven that will finally leaven the whole lump" of Oriental superstition and credulity, occurred not long ago.

One of these oleaginous, self-complacent, peripatetic, sacerdotal "loafers," on a begging expedition, like a mendicant friar of old, came one day and set him down at the door of a grain-seller who was reputed to be wealthy, but was also suspected of being rather heterodox—in other words a freethinker, and a dissident from the old school of Hindoo thought.

The lazy, fat Brahmin was determined to test the Bunncalis orthodoxy, and, sitting down by the door, demanded, with all the haughty imperiousness of a high-caste Brahmin, some refreshment.

The Bunneah, however, had determined that he would no longer pander to this constant drain upon his resources, for he remembered that he had a family to support, and taxes to pay, and had to work hard himself for his living.

He was not averse to alms-giving in the abstract, and indeed, as a rule, the better classes of Hindoos are conspicuously benevolent.

So he did not stint Ins charity when a deserving object was presented to his notice, but he justly thought that this perpetual blackmail levied by able-bodied but indolent priests, be they Byragee, Movlvie, or Brahmin, was but a premium on laziness, and altogether "too much of a good thing."

So that, being in this mood, it was in vain that the Brahmin clamoured for a meal. The Bunneah, like John Grundy's wife in the song, "heard as if he heard him not."

Others of the more pious or less enlightened villagers pressed their presents of food on the clamorous Brahmin, but his obstinacy and priestly intolerance were now roused, and lie was determined to vindicate his arrogant pretensions, and break the spirit of the recalcitrant Bunncoth.

So passed the first day—hierarchical statement of right on the one hand, against modern heterodox defiance on the other.

On the second day the Brahmin, still persistent, but now really hungry, poured forth all the curses and comminations of his stock-in-trade upon the Bunneah's devoted head, accompanying these with mantras, muttered spells, and open objurgations.

Still obdurate was the Oriental John Knox.

Finding that the Bunneah did not care so much as he expected for his ban and malison, the chagrined Brahmin began to lacerate his arms, cutting himself like one of the priests of Baal, no doubt thinking that the awful consequences resulting from having the blood of a Brahmin at his door would break the proud spirit of the grain-dealer, and force him into submission.

Not a bit of it.

The hard-hearted Bunneah was determined to maintain the position which he had taken, and although the roused and horror-stricken neighbours crowded around him, and piteously implored him to make his peace, with the Brahmin, and so avert the dire consequences, so they imagined, of having sacred blood spilt among them—that, in fact, their unhappy village might not be consigned with all its inhabitants to dreadful pains and penalties. Still, however, the undaunted grain-seller turned a deaf ear to their imploring entreaties.

On the third day the oily old priest, now goaded to desperation, possibly maddened into an excess of Oriental fury—one of those paroxysms which come upon Easterns in moments of strong excitement—and thinking, by a bold move—a coup dc main, as it were—to terrify the Bunneah into submission, be, after solemnly abjuring the obstinate heretic by the names of all the gods, calling down upon him and upon all the villagers the dire penalties due to one who was guilty of the death of a heaven-descended Brahmin, made for a deep well that was situated in the courtyard, and (the proceedings having attracted nearly all the inhabitants), amid horror-stricken cries from the crowd of onlookers, and agonising wailings and a thrill of superstitious dread, plunged down sheer into the gloomy depths of the well.

The pious villagers were paralysed with horror.

The men tore their hair and their garments, the women screamed and beat their breasts, and every one in horror-stricken accents shrieked aloud.

Would nothing move the obduracy of this determined old iconoclast?

Yes; the Bunneah seemed at last to relent.

His face betrayed conflicting emotions.

He rushed to the well, the excited crowd gazing with intense interest at his every action.

Bending over the well, in whose humid depths the floating form of the discomfited priest was dimly discernible, he besought the Bralmrin not to drown himself.

You can fancy how the heart of the half-submerged sacerdotalist leaped for joy at having at length, as he exultantly thought, established the triumph of orthodoxy.

Behold, now, the reward of his persistency had come after all Ins long fasting, humiliation, and suffering.

Unwinding his long, strong silken puggree, the Bunneah lowers it slowly down. With trembling eager fingers it is grasped by the Brahmin.

The Bunneah hauls up the spluttering unfortunate; but when he reached the top of the well, guess the awful revulsion of feeling, the supreme dumbfouiiderment he must have felt, as the strong, vigorous fingers of the Bunneah tightened on his wrists, and deftly tied these with the puggree which had just served as a draw-rope; and then, amid the outcries and lamentations of the shrieking crowd, he hauled the half-drowned and wholly crestfallen Brahmin off to the nearest police station, and charged him under the l'enal Code with an attempt to commit suicide.

The sequel is short.

Under the Indian Penal Code this offence is visited with a minimum punishment of two years imprisonment.

As the case was so clear, the full penalty was inflicted.

This did more to break down the absurd pretensions of the Brahmins in that village than many a long argument could ever have done.

But this is only one of a hundred indirect ways in which missionary teaching and English example are bearing fruit.

Doubtless the Brahmin reflected in his cell on the mutability of human affairs, and must have come to the orthodox conclusion that "the Church was going to the dogs" altogether.

If I might be permitted the obvious reflection, is not this an expressed idea with sacerdotalists in other latitudes, and with priests who are not Brahmins?

Take some of our advanced ritualists, for instance, with their vain equipments and foolish ceremonies, really offering a "stone" to the people in place of the Bread of Life, giving the " serpent" of priestly arrogance and pretentiousness instead of the wholesome "fish" of Divine Truth, and estranging from the Church the sympathies and support of aB those in the community who, like our bunneah, are perhaps not the least advanced and intelligent in their ideas. Possibly so. But on these matters I am old-fashioned.

The moral is perhaps worthy of some little consideration.

Lest some of my readers may think the story of the Brahmin and the Bunneah overdrawn, and as further illustrative of the change in the mental attitude of the more progressive and liberal-minded natives towards their old faith and old caste exactions, let me give an extract or two from a most interesting book written by Sahib Chunder Bose, of Calcutta, himself formerly, I believe, a high caste Hindoo, and which is well worth the perusal of any one who wishes to see "The Hindoos as they are." Indeed, that is the title of the book, published in 1881. Loudon: Edward Stanford, 55 Charing Cross, and Newman and Co., Calcutta.

At page 108, speaking of Doorga Poojah Festival, the learned Baboo writes:

"On the third or last day of the Poojah, being the ninth day of the increase of the moon, the prescribed ritualistic ceremonies having been performed, the officiating priests make the hoam and dlwjcinanto, a rite, the meaning of which is to present farewell offerings to the goddess for one year, adding in a suitable prayer that she will be graciously pleased to forgive the present shortcomings on the part of her devotees, and vouchsafe to them her blessings in this world as well as in the world to come. "This," says the Baboo, "is a very critical time for the priests, because the finale of the ceremony involves the important question of their respective gains." He then shows how the priests—generally three in number—fight among themselves for the biggest share of the fees, and will not complete the ceremony by pronouncing the last prayer till the knotty question of the distribution of fees is satisfactorily settled. He thus proceeds: "It is necessary to add here that the presents of rupees which the numerous guests offered to the goddess during the three days of the Poojah, go to swell the fund of the priest, to which the worshipper of the idol must add a separate sum, without which this act of merit loses its final reward in a future state. The devotee must satisfy the cupidity of the priests or run the Ash of forfeiting divine inerey. "When the problem is ultimately solved in favour of the officiating priest

who actually makes the Poojah, and sums of money are put into the hands of the Bralnnins, the last prayer is read. It is not perhaps generally known," adds the writer, "that the income the Indian ecclesiastics thus derive from this source supports them for the greater part of the year, with a little gain in money or kind from the land they own."

At page 155, speaking of the Saraswati Poojah, the following very suggestive sentences occur: "In every chatoospah, or school, the Brahmin Pundit and his pupils worship this goddess with religious strictness. The Pundit, setting up an image, invites all his patrons, neighbouring friends and acquaintances on this occasion. Every one who attends must make a present of one or a half rupee to the goddess, and returns home with the hollow benediction of the Brahmin." (The italics are mine.) "To so miserable a strait have the learned Pundits been reduced of late years, that they anxious!} look forward to the anniversary of this festival as a small harvest of gain to them as the authoritative ministers of the goddess. They make from fifty to one hundred rupees a year by the celebration of this Poojah, which keeps them for six months; should any of their friends fail to make the usual present to the goddess, they are sure to demand it as a right." And in a pregnant footnote he adds :

"A gift once made to a Brahmin must be continued from year to year till the donor dies; in some cases it is tenable from one generation to another."

At page 187 he says: "If Manu were to visit Bengal now, his indignation and amazement would know no bounds in witnessing the sacerdotal class reduced to the humiliating position of a servile, cringing and mercenary crowd of men. Their original prestige has suffered a total shipwreck. Generally speaking, a Brahmin of the present day is practically a Soodra (the most inferior class) of the past age, irretrievably sunt in honour and dignity. Indeed it was one of the curses of the Vedic period that to be a Brahmin of the present, Kaliyagu, would be an impersonation of corruption, baseness and venality."

And he sums up by saying:

"He" (the Brahmin) "can no longer plume-himself on his religious purity and mental superiority, once so pre-eminently characteristic of the order. The spread of English education has sounded the death-knell of his spiritual ascendency. In short, his fate is doomed; he must bear or must forbear, as seems to him best. The tide of improvement will continue to roll on uninterruptedly," etc., etc.

So much for Baboo Sahib Chunder Bose, His view is undoubtedly the correct one in great measure, and little wonder need be felt that the erstwhile " lordly Brahmin " bitterly hates the white-faced beefeaters from across the "Black Water," and would hail the day with glad acclaim that would see the last of our red-coats swept into the river or the sea.

The classes like the Bunneah, however—the trading, industrial and cultivating classes—do not, I am willing and glad to believe, share in this dislike of British rule; and after all, these are the people, the mainstay of any system of government; and our chiefest and proudest boast as conquerors of India is, that we have consolidated the rule we won by the sword through the grateful recognition of an emancipated people, that we seek to do justly by them, and endeavour to reign in their affections, and govern by their free good will!


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