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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter I

Province of Behar—Boundaries—General description—District of Clium-parim—ilooteeliarree— Tlie toivn and lake—Native Louses—The Planters' Club—Segoulie.

Among the many beautiful and fertile provinces of India, none can, I think, much excel that of Behar for richness of soil, diversity of race, beauty of scenery, and the energy and intelligence of its inhabitants. Stretching from the Nepaul Hills to the far distant plains of Gya, with the Gunduck, Bagmuttee and other noble streams watering its rich bosom, and swelling with their tribute the stately Ganges, it includes within its borders every variety of soil and climate; and its various races, with their strange costumes, creeds, and customs, might afford material to fill volumes.

The northern part of this splendid province follows the Nepaulese boundary from the district of Goruckpore on the north, to that of Purncah on the south. In the forests and jungles along this boundary line live many strange tribes, whose customs, nay even their names and language, are all but unknown to the English public. Strange wild animal* dispute with these aborigines the possession of the gloomy jungle solitudes. Great trees of wondrous dimensions and strange foliage rear their stately heads to heaven, and are matted and entwined together by creepers of huge size and tenacious hold.

To the south and east vast billows of golden grain roll in successive undulations to the mighty Ganges, the sacred stream of the Hindoos. Innumerable villages, nestling amid groves of plantains and feathery rustling bamboos, send up their wreaths of pale grey smoke into the still warm air. At frequent intervals the steely blue of some lovely lake, where thousands of water-fowl disport themselves, reflects from its polished surface the sheen of the noonday sun. Great masses of mango wood show a sombre outline at intervals, and here and there the towering chimney of an indigo factory pierces the sky. Government roads and embankments intersect the face of the country in all directions, and vast sheets of the indigo plant refresh the eye with their plains of living green, forming a grateful contrast to the hard, dried, sun-baked surface of the stubble fields, where the rice crop has rustled in the breezes of the past season. In one of the loveliest and most fertile districts of this vast province, namely Chumparun, I began my experiences as an indigo planter.

Chumparun, with its subdistrict of Bettiah, lies to the north of Tirhoot, and is bounded all along its northern extent by the Nepaul hills and forests. When I joined my appointment as assistant on one of the large local indigo concerns, there were not more than about thirty European residents altogether in the district. The chief town, Mooterharree, consisted of a long bazaar, or market street, beautifully situated on the bank of a lovely lake, some two miles in length. From the main street, with its quaint little shops sheltered from the sun by makeshift verandahs of tattered sacking, weather-stained shingles, or rotting bamboo mats, various little lanes and alleys diverged, leading one into a collection of tumble-down and ruinous huts, set up apparently by chance, and presenting the most incongruous appearance that could possibly be conceived. One or two pucca houses, that is, houses of brick and masonry, showed where some wealthy Runneah (trailer) or usurious banker lived, hut the majority of the houses were of the usual mud and bamboo order. There is a small thatched hut where the meals are cooked, and where the owner and his family could sleep during the rains. Another smaller hut, at right angles to this, gives shelter to the family goat, or, if they are rich enough to keep one, the cow. All round the villages in India there are generally large patches of common, where the village cows have free rights of pasture; and all who can, keep either a cow or a couple of goats, the milk from which forms a welcome addition to their usual scanty fare. In this second hut also is stored as much fuel, consisting of dried cow-dung, straw, maize-stalks, leaves, etc., as can be collected; and a ragged fence of bamboo or rahu [The rahur is a kind of pea, growing not unlike our English broom in appearance; it is sown with the maize crop during the rains, and garnered in the cold weather. It produces a small pea, which is largely used by the natives, and farms the nutritive article of diet known as dhall..] stalks encloses the two unprotected sides, thus forming a small court, quadrangle, or square inside. This court is the native's sanctum sanctorum. It is kept scrupulously clean, being swept and garnished religiously every day. In this the women prepare the rice for the day's consumption; here they cut up and clean their vegetables, or their fish, when the adjacent lake has been dragged by the village fishermen. Here the produce of their little garden, capsicums, Indian com, onions or potatoes— perchance turmeric, ginger, or other roots or spices—are dried and made ready for storing in the earthen sun-baked repository for the reception of such produce appertaining to each household. Here the children play, and are washed and tended. Here the maiden combs out her long black hair, or decorates her bronzed visage with streaks of red paint down the nose, and a little antimony on the eyelids, or myrtle juice on the linger and toe nails. Here, too, the matron, or the withered old crone of a grandmother, spins her cotton thread; or, in the old scriptural hand-m~.ll, grinds the corn for the family Hour and meal; and the father and the young men (when the sun is high and hot in the heavens) take their noonday siesta, or, the day's labours over, cower round the smoking fire of a cold winter night, and discuss the prices ruling in the bazaar, the rise of rents, or the last village scandal.

In the middle of the town, and surrounded by a spacious fenced-in compound, which sloped gently to the lake, stood the Planters' Club, a large low roofed bungalow, with a roomy wide verandah in front. Here we met, when business or pleasure brought us to "the Station." Here were held our annual balls, or an occasional public dinner-party. To the north of the Club stood a long range of barrack-looking buildings, which were the opium godowns, where the opium was collected and stored during the season. Pacing this again, and at the extremity of the lake, was the district jail, where all the rascals of the surrounding country were confined; its high walls topped at intervals by a red puggree and flashing bayonet wherever a jail sepoy kept his "lonely watch." Near it, sheltered ;n a grove of shady trees, were the court houses, where the collector and magistrate daily dispensed justice, or where the native moonsiff disentangled knotty points of law. Here, too, came the sessions judge once a month or so, to try criminal cases and mete out justice to the law-breakers.

We had thus a small European element in our "Station," consisting of our magistrate and collector, whose large and handsome house was built on the banks of another and yet lovelier lake, which joined the town lake by a narrow stream or strait at its southern end, an opium agent, a district superintendent of police, and last but not least, a doctor. These formed the official population of our little "Station." There was also a nice little church, but no resident pastor, and behind the town lay a quiet churchyard, rich in the dust of many a pioneer, who, far from home and friends, had here been gathered to his silent rest.

About twelve miles to the north, and near the Nepaul boundary, was the small military station of Segoulie. Here there was always a native cavalry regiment, the officers of which were frequent and welcome guests at the factories in the district, and were always glad to see their indigo friends at their mess in cantonments. At Rettiah, still further to the north, was a rich rajah's palace, where a resident European manager dwelt, and had for his sole society an assistant magistrate who transacted the executive and judicial work of the subdistrict. These, with some twenty-live or thirty indigo managers and assistants, composed the whole European population of Chumparun.

Never was there a more united community. We were all like brothers. Each knew all the rest. The assistants frequently visited each other, and the managers were kind and considerate to their subordinates. Hunting parties were common, cricket and hockey matches were frequent, and in the cold weather, which is our slackest season, fun. frolic, and sport was the order of the day. We had an annual race meet, when all the crack horses of the district met in keen rivalry to test their pace and endurance. During this high carnival, we lived for the most part under canvas, and had friends from far and near to share our hospitality. In a future chapter I must describe our racing meet.

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