Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Tent Life in Tigerland
Chapter XII - An Eventful Day

The famine of 1874—Nature of relief works — Fatalism—Humane tendencies of British rule — Epidemics —Sharp contrasts—Crowded incidents of planter life—A fierce hail-storm—A runaway elephant — Through the forest—Hue and cry after a thief—A desperate fugitive— Setting an ambush — Female furies — An exciting diversion—A desperate scuffle—Capture—Tactics of the female gipsies—Horrible cruelty—A hapless little one—Outwitted!—The robber escapes — Feasting amid famine—A Brahmin bhoj—Appearance of the village— The guests—The cookery—The feast—Strange plates—A motley melange— -Prodigious appetite—Once more on the road—Reach Soopole —Hospitable reception.

In the early part of March, 1874, a terrible famine raged in Nepaul and all along the northern Bengal provinces bordering on the Terai.

On the 15th of March of that year, Sir Richard Temple, then Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, came up with a party of officials to inspect the provision that had been made to mitigate the famine in these remote districts. At Caragola Ghaut, on the Ganges, enormous quantities of rice had been stored under temporary cover, and myriads of tons in bags were stacked up all along the banks of the river like the extended walls of some field fortification.

Having considerable influence with the riverside population I was entrusted with the work of collecting boats to transport the rice to the famine-stricken districts further north.

Day after day long flotillas of native boats were laden with the welcome grain, and despatched as fast as the work could be done up the swift Koosee beyond the Nepaul frontier, and there distributed among the starving villagers.

Relief works were instituted in various parts of Purneah and North Bhaugulpore, and I had to be constantly out among the poor wretched, emaciatcd creatures working on these embankments and roads, and altogether, what with seeing to the hiring, despatching, and the administration generally, of water carriage of rice and relief works on land, I had a busy time of it.

Readers at home can scarcely realise the awful nature of such a dire calamity as that of a famine in India.

The lower classes, as I have before stated, are practically fatalists, and when misfortune overtakes them, they are the most helpless creatures in existence. They have no inner resources of self-reliance, and, leading almost a vegetable life, rarely moving many miles from their villages, they have little or no conception of the vast world lying outside their own immediate ken, and when their crops are smitten down with drought or blight, or swept away by floods, they generally, not without a deep, dumb pathos, calmly submit to the inevitable as it appears to them, and accept their fate without a murmur.

In seasons of cholera, emigration often takes place, when all of the able-bodied portion of the population remove to distant hill villages; but the aged and infirm are left behind, to fall victims to the dreaded pest, or escape as may be their "Kismet," i.e. their fate.

These periodical scourges no doubt thinned the ranks of the swarming hive of humanity in these thickly populous districts, and in olden time was doubtless nature's ruthless way of keeping up what might be called a healthy balance between those who subsisted and the means of subsistence, although this may seem a callous way of putting it. As for hygiene, it was not known.

However, the humane tendencies of British rule could not allow such a state of things to continue, hence it is that now, when famine threatens any district, when cholera or smallpox or fever or any other epidemic begins to claim its wonted quota of victims, the humaniritanism of British rule steps in, medical aid and medicine are promptly forthcoming, and vast supplies of grain are sent from every point. Roads and embankments are made for that purpose, and canals and railways are being constructed in all directions with a view of mitigating such a calamity as famine; and the whole tendency of English rule, as regards its native subjects, is to conserve their lives and ameliorate their condition.

If it be cholera that breaks out, an ever active army of members of the noblest profession known to our common humanity are sent to battle with the dread disease, and seek to stay the hand of the destroyer. If it be fever, the provident and humane foresight of the Government, at enormous expense, has provided a means of coping with this evil also, and the cinchona forests of Darjeeling, Upper India, the Neilgheries and Ceylon, yield the life-giving and fever-dispelling quinine; and this is dispensed to the fever-racked population at a price which brings it within the reach of every one, or, in the Government-aided dispensaries, is given gratis, and has been the means of saving yearly, thousands of lives.

So too with small-pox.

This favourite medium of the goddess Kali, by which she was supposed to yearly claim her myriads of victims, is now by compulsory vaccination much reduced in its potency for destruction. And so it is that a new problem is now presented to thoughtful students of Indian life and character; the onward sweep and resistless march of the army of population is fast treading on the heels of the capacity of the country to carry its human swarm, and the big economic problem of the future, "How shall India sustain its teeming millions?" becomes yearly one of greater perplexity, in the wise solution of which the most momentous issues are involved.

The magnitude of this thought has led me to digress, however. My purpose is only in these sketches to give a suggestive narrative of the varied incidents which make up the story of a planter's daily life, and the reader must pursue the suggestions to such solution as may suit his temperament.

My wish is simply to show the varied calls that are made upon the planter's life, and the demands which are constantly being made upon him for the exercise of very much higher qualities—both moral, intellectual, and physical—than are involved in the mere pursuit of field sports.

I would not have it thought for a moment that the planter has nothing to do but go out day after day on his trusty elephant in pursuit of game, and I would have given a totally false impression of our tent life in India if the reader jumps to that conclusion. Life in India is indeed highly dramatic, and presents the most constant and startling contrasts.

The ostentatious grandeur of the lordly zemindar, with his retinue of sleek retainers, is sharply accented as he moves along in all the profusion of jewelled magnificence, his elephants bedizened with gorgeous trappings, and his importance loudly proclaimed by every circumstance of barbaric pomp, when one hears amid the sound of the drums and the clash of cymbals, the wailing cries of a long row of melancholy beggars that line the roadside like Lazarus or blind Bartimaeus of old, their shrunken frames and contorted limbs telling the most touching tale of human suffering, and exciting oftentimes feelings rather of repulsion than of pity, so horrible is the spectacle. Take any busy bathing ghat near a city. The contrasts are so sharp and pointed, the incidents are so varied, the canvas is so crowded, the phases of humanity are so multifarious, that when one comes fresh from the quiet country, it all seems like the crowded phantasmagoria of a feverish dream but one soon gets accustomed to it: yet ever and anon one receives a rude shock, which reawakes his first sensations of pity or of wonder, or of awe, it may he, and such vivid incidents as become memories for a lifetime are constantly being presented.

Take one such—the adventures of a single day.

On Monday the 9th March, 1874, I started in the early morning from Lutchmepore, my head factory, to endeavour to reach the small station of Soopole, some forty miles distant, over rough and rugged country.

I had first to cross the Dhaus in one of the crank canoes I have spoken of, and on the way across I saw a man-eating alligator. Item the first.

On the other side, having mounted my elephant, which was in waiting, I had to decide a case of trespass between two angry litigants, who sought to end their long-standing quarrel by my arbitration.

The case was one involving nice points, and it took me some time to settle it. Item number two.

Meantime the sky had got immensely overclouded, and shortly from the westward a fierce hail and thunder storm came sweeping up, eddying and whirling with crushing fury and howling noise, working along in a north-easterly direction.

Thatched roofs and houses were caught up as if by a mighty arm, and were scattered about in all directions; the hailstones, as big almost as pigeons' eggs, with sharp, jagged edges, came crashing down with relentless fury. I was glad to take hurried shelter in a loose stack of refuse thatching grass and withered stalks of Indian corn, piled up loosely near a cattle-camp, while my elephant, maddened by the stinging of the hailstones, set his tail as straight as a ramrod, shook both guddee and mahout off his back, and made straight back for the factory through the sluggish waters of the Dhaus. Item number three.

The fury of the storm was soon spent, and the frightened villagers came forth bemoaning their sad fate and sadly gazing on ruined crops and, in not a few cases, maimed and wounded cattle; and I had to console them as best I could by a promise of some little assistance from the factory.

Meantime messengers were despatched to bring back the recalcitrant elephant.

Taking advantage of my enforced stay in the village, numbers of poor sick creatures—most painful cases of suffering, some of them—were brought out to me, as I had the reputation of being a bit of a laid, i.e. a doctor.

I generally carried a small pocket case of instruments with me and a bottle of quinine, and in one or two cases I was able to give some slight relief by simple little surgical operations and doses of the febrifuge. One case was a horrible one. A poor half-witted old man had fallen in a fit of epilepsy into a smouldering fire, and his burns were something fearful to look upon. It was evident he could not recover, as incipient mortification had already set in, but the patient and silent resignation to his fate was something most pathetic. Then I had to speak to the headmen about their crops, discuss the prices of produce with them, and generally hear all their complaints and profess an interest which it was really very hard sometimes to feel.

Once more getting on the elephant, I had to cross a stretch of boggy country, with rice swamp here and there, traverse a part of the old original sal forest, which stretched its arms like some great polypus all along the ridges running down from the main spurs of the Terai into the plain country.

These forests are very sombre and gloomy.

They are inhabited by curious jungle tribes of Banturs and hillmen, and in their gloomy solitudes, hunting, charcoal-burning, and a little rude cultivation are the chief occupations of their inhabitants.

I had just emerged from one of these forest-crowned ridges and was about to cross a pretty large open plain, studded with cultivated fields and having a hamlet in the middle of it, when I saw a crowd of villagers rush frantically out from the houses, tightening their cummerbunds and brandishing their lathees, that is, their lighting staves, some seemingly armed with clumsy spears and old swords, yelling and crying at the top of their voices as they pursued a desperate-looking fugitive whose gaunt, wiry frame boasted no other covering than a tattered shred of blue cotton cloth round his loins, and who seemed straining every nerve to elude his infuriated pursuers and reach the friendly shade, of the sombre forest. I took in the situation at a glance.

This was evidently a gipsy thief, one of a gang of notorious house-breakers whose depredations for some time past had been the talk of the villages round about. He belonged to the gipsy caste—Nuths, as they are called—a wandering, predatory tribe of which had been camped in the forest for some time.

They had actually paid a nocturnal visit to my factory, and. had stolen various things from the servants' huts. They had broken into the house of a neighbouring village-banker, and had in several cases succeeded in stealing jewellery from the persons of women, whorn they had waylaid and maltreated as they were returning from the village bazaars.

They were a lawless and desperate set; and telling the mahout—as I had evidently not yet been observed by either the fugitive or his pursuers—to draw back within the shade of the wood again, we directed our course so as to intercept the fugitive, and if possible succeed in capturing him, as it was important that the gang should be broken up.

It was unfortunate that I was on the elephant. Had I been on horseback, my task would have been easier.

Two of my peons were with me, accompanying me on foot, and my old bearer was with me on the guddee.

Telling the mahout to be ready with the elephant, we alighted, and creeping cautiously forward under cover, arranged ourselves in ambush to intercept our intended prize. We had however counted without our host. We were not the only interested beholders. Scarcely had we taken our places —the wretched man being now near us—so near, in fact, that through the bushes we could see his set teeth and gleaming eyes, and his wiry, swarthy frame strained to the fullest nervous tension. He was making straight for us, and would in a few moments have run into our ambush; when, with a shrill scream close beside us, which made us start as if we were the guilty parties and not he, a bevy of shrieking harpies, with dishevelled hair, bare bosoms, long skinny lingers clawing the air wildly, and with discordant clamour, came rushing at us from the rear and surrounded us.

These were the Nuthnees, or female gipsies, the members doubtless of the pursued man's harem.

One of them had a sickly babe in her arms, and casting off every shred of apparel as they screamed at us, they tried to distract our attention from the desperate fugitive, and the situation was, for me at all events, a very unpleasant one. They came tearing around me like so many furies.

I was like Macbeth with the three witches, only more so.

They shook their skinny fingers in my face, dancing around me, trying to take hold of me, and it was only by my promptitude of action in laying about me most lustily with my riding whip that I was able to keep them at arm's-length. I learned afterwards that this brazen conduct was a common dodge of these gipsy women; but it was my first experience of their tactics, and I mentally wished it might be my last.

Duths. Wandeping gipsv thieves.

The pursued man was quick to avail himself of this sudden diversion in his favour.

He doubled like a hare, twisted like an eel through the first few villagers who were now close upon him, eluded with catlike quickness the blows that were aimed at him, and with surprising agility made straight for the thickest part of the undergrowth that skirted the forest.

I am ashamed to confess that for the first time in my life, my blood being up and my hunting instincts being aroused, I struck a woman.

The leader of the harridans, a particularly repulsive-looking object, tried to throw herself in my way and encircle me in her loathsome embrace. What I said I am afraid was not exactly a prayer, but hitting her straight between the eyes, I sent her flying, and away I went after the retreating form of the thief as hard as I could lay legs to ground. The poor hunted wretch was now much distressed, for during the scullle in the village he had received a crack on the sconce, from which the blood was flowing, and his gait was now unsteady, and his quick breath came in short spasmodic gasps.

The villagers had evidently overshot their quarry, and so far as I could see, he and I were alone. I was gaining upon him, and was almost within reach of him with my hunting whip, when he doubled round the bole of a thick sal tree, and before I could stop, he had again put some distance between us.

I was determined, however, not to be balked, and being in pretty good wind myself, I made after him again.

This time his good fortune seemed to desert him, for catching his foot heavily in some trailing jungle, plant, he fell prone to the earth, and in a minute I bestrode his recumbent figure.

I had a strong silk sash as a cummerbund, which I hastily unwound, and was about to pinion him, when the women again made their appearance on the scene. There were three of them. The old hag had evidently retired.

The one with the babe in her arms was a plump, matronly body; the other two were young and exceedingly pretty-looking.

Indeed, many of these gipsy women are noted for their great physical beauty, but they are as fierce and treacherous as tigers. Their natures are savage and cruel, and the life they lead of continuous theft and depredation, does not tend to make them any the more gentle and pacific.

The rough-and-ready method 1 had adopted in dealing with the old hag had evidently shown them that I was not to be dissuaded from my purpose by the usual way they adopted of flinging away their garments already referred to. One of the younger women implored me in the most moving language she could command, to have mercy—dohai!!—on her man—admi—and not to take away her bread-winner, piteously appealing to me to think of her and her children.

They could see no sign of relenting about me. The man lay breathing and panting heavily; the cries of the advancing villagers approached nearer.

I fancied a quick glance of intelligence passed between the man and the matronly woman with the babe.

He seemed to be getting his wind and nerving himself for a fresh effort.

The woman sprang forward now, and with excited gestures and screaming volubility began to heap imprecations on my head. She poured forth a torrent of galee—abuse—on my devoted head, and on the heads of all my relatives down to the twenty-seventh generation. Seeing me still relentless— for I was now beginning to pinion the man with my sash— she seized her child by the two arms, swung it wildly around her head, the hapless infant wailing out a pitiable cry, and then, with all the fury of a madwoman, she struck its little limbs against a tree, bruising its poor little feet, and making my very heart stop beating with the horror of my indignation. I could not help the impulse, but forgetful of all else, 1 rushed forward to save the. infant, when, with a demoniacal yell of exultation she flung it at me, and, to save it from falling, I caught it in my arms.

She turned to flee, and I pursued, encumbered with the infant; and not being altogether what you might call a trained nurse, I found it no easy task to capture such a fleet forest Hebe as she proved herself to be. And then all of a sudden came the mortifying reflection that she had completely outwitted me, and that this last desperate episode had been a ruse to enable her husband to escape.

Turning to look, I found this was really the case.

I need not pile up further details. Suffice it to say the rascal escaped. All that was left—for the woman got away too—was the poor miserable babe.

On both his little heels were ghastly ragged wounds, where the savage mother had dashed the little creature against the tree.

The chaukeydar of the village, who now came up, took charge of the poor little thing, but it did not live long.

The gipsies shifted their camp and left the neighbourhood; and I subsequently found, on comparing notes with my friend S-, the Soopole magistrate, to whom I related the adventure, that this was not at all an uncommon dodge of these gipsy women when any of the males of the tribe were hard pressed, as had been the case on this occasion.

This is a bare, unvarnished recital, and such a narrative may do more to give my readers an idea of the savagery and cruelty of paganism than many a long sermon.

This, then, is item number four.

The next experience was destined to be one of those sharp, sudden, and significant contrasts which are peculiarly characteristic of India—painful in their suggestiveness, startling in their suddenness, and calculated to make even the most thoughtless think and the most critical and unsympathetic hold their peace, when they begin to ponder over the problem of British government in India.

At the moment of which I am treating, grim famine was stalking over the land, thousands of the peasantry were literally starving. And yet such is the strange, incomprehensible nature of the ostentatious Oriental, I was about to witness a scene of lavish extravagance and riotous profusion.

It was now past midday, and little hope remained of my getting to Soopole in time for dinner. But the day's adventures were not yet finished.

The story of the excited and angry villagers was much as I had surmised. The thief had been surprised in the act of stealing some brass utensils from the courtyard of one of the houses. One of the village women raised the hue and cry, and had been struck down by the robber, and then followed a fierce scuffle, and the incidents I have just described.

It was now long past tiffin time, and these frequent delays on the road had caused me to miss my dale, where refreshments awaited me. And so, after all the excitement and exertion, there was little wonder that I felt most un-romantically hungry.

The jhet ryot, or head man, gave me very welcome intelligence, then, when he informed me that there was a bhoj being celebrated in the neighbouring village, and if I would submit myself to his guidance, he would feel honoured at being permitted to show me the way.

A bhoj? you ask. "What is that?

"Well, shortly speaking, a bhoj is simply a feast. The peculiar signification of the term over an ordinary feast is, that at a bhoj the provision is so ample that you are expected to eat to repletion. A bhoj is generally the outcome of the ostentation of some opulent villager, who desires to stand well with the Bralimins, dazzle the susceptibilities of his humbler neighbours, and excite the envy of those who are of his own standing. Sometimes the bhaj is given to the Brahmins in fulfilment of a vow, or to propitiate a deity, or to ensure good fortune in some undertaking, or to show gratitude for the birth of a son and heir, or recovery from a sickness, or the happy termination of a speculation, or the return from an auspicious undertaking, and so on.

The present bhoj, as I learned, was being given by a wealthy merchant and village banker, in fulfilment of a vow of gratitude consequent on the birth of a son and heir. To be strictly correct, the giver of the feast was a notorious usurer, and was reputed to have made mints of money out of hoarded grain.

Taking our way, then, through the forest in company with several of my leading ryots, we were not long in emerging upon a most beautifully situated collection of neat thatched houses, with a small temple in one corner of the hamlet, and a deep mossy well in the centre of a great courtyard or, more properly speaking, market-place, which was shaded by several wide-spreading fig trees. Round the trees were rude earthen altars or sylvan shrines; quaint figures of gods and goddesses in rudely shaped pottery were perceptible in groups on every platform; and daubs of red and white pigments splashed around, with withered flowers and faded tinsel ornaments, bespoke something of the local sanctity of the place. It was evident at a glance that the village was en fete. The inhabitants were clad in clean raiment. The women peeped at us in dozens from every little enclosure. The children looked oily, sleek, and contented, and ran about in swarms. There were certainly no indications of famine here.

Numerous groups of what Sydney Smith would have called "oleaginous and saponaceous" Brahmins were collected all around the circle; and the giver of the feast, surrounded by adulatory friends, beamed complacently from under the shade of a goodly caparisoned shaiaiana, i.e. canopy.

Hearing the clank of my elephant, and being doubtless apprised of my coming by the running footmen who accompanied our party, there was an immediate commotion in the circle on my advent.

The fat and jolly old banker came waddling forward to meet me, with many a profound salaam, and gave me. a truly Oriental and hospitable welcome to his village.

The Brahmins vied with each other in the flowery rhetoric of their compliments and the obsequiousness of their genuflexions.

The children, clinging to the skirts of the parental garments, gazed up wonderingly with their beautiful round brown eyes at the unwonted appearance of a white man in the midst of their quiet rural surroundings. My elephant, descrying behind the shade of some friendly trees several of his own genus, piped out a shrill query in elephant language as to what was the likelihood of his being allowed to participate in the bhoj, and thus evoked a shrill chorus of elepliantic responses, which caused the village cattle to low, the Brahmins' ponies to snort and neigh, the ragged and mangy curs to howl and yelp, and the tethered goats in the various enclosures to bleat; and all this medley of sound, with the din and chatter of the excited and festive villagers, and the flood of bright colours from the gay visitors and the many rich Oriental surroundings, formed such a picture as could only be seen in India; and which, if painted by the magic brush of some gifted artist, would surely be looked upon by our staid, sober, stay-at-home, and—shall I say it?—rather unbelieving and unimaginative mediocrities, as something altogether unnatural and impossible.

At the back of the village, two great trenches at right angles to each other had been dug, not unlike, what one seas when he may happen to visit a great military camp, and passing the front line of tents, finds his way to the rear, where the regimental cooking may happen to be carried on.

In the trenches, large quantities of glowing logs and redly burning charcoal were giving out a fierce heat. Great chatties of rice were steaming and bubbling with that delightful sound always suggestive of pleasant cookery.

Great metal dekchees, on which the lids were blobbing and dancing as the savoury steam forced them up, and escaped in grateful little jets, which roused one's gastronomic perceptions to a most acute pitch of anticipation, were the cynosure of the observant eyes of a mob of hungry, expectant, nondescript beggars and cultivators and charcoal-burners and denizens of the forest generally, who had been attracted by the rumour of the bhoj, and who looked forward to having a regular jollification from the debris of the feast, after the invited guests had first partaken. Behind these, in true Oriental fashion, were squatted numbers of the ladies of their respective harems and their hungry progeny; and the eager glare in their eyes, and the expectant attitude of the poor emaciated bodies, with the wistful, hungry look which one gets accustomed to see in the poor districts in India, was quite sufficient to tell a sad tale of want, hunger, poverty and wretchedness, approaching even to the verge of starvation, mutely suggestive of the straits to winch these poor creatures had been reduced by a succession of dry [and unpropitious seasons.

However, the preparations for the bhoj were proceeding merrily.

In the dekchees, kid's flesh was simmering, vegetable curries and fish curries were approaching that delicious golden stage when their aroma invades every avenue of sense, and there was a general, subtle, indescribable something, suggestive of feasting, pervading the whole atmosphere, which accentuated my hunger and still further whetted my already sharp-set appetite.

The giver of the feast was evidently for the nonce no niggard. There must have been fully three-score Brahmins, and as many more invited guests who were about to participate in Ins bounty, and the poor people who had been attracted by the rumour of the feast must have numbered two or three hundred.

As I alighted from my elephant, I was met by my smiling host, who put a salamee of two rupees into my outstretched hand in token of his feudal submission.

This I transferred to my mahout.

I was then conducted to a seat under the shamiana, and presently, after being sprinkled with attar of roses, a few spices were served up on a curiously carved metal tray, and then the guests began to seat themselves around, in groups and companies, beneath the shamiana.

At these feasts, the cooking is invariably done by Brahmins, as of course a Rajpoot, or a high-caste writer, or any respectable high-caste man, would be in danger of losing caste if he partook of food which had been prepared, or even touched, by a man lower in caste than himself.

But a Brahmin being the highest caste of all, it would be of course no derogation for any one to eat food prepared by him.

Indeed this forms one of the great sources of revenue by which the poorer Brahmins manage to eke out a tolerably comfortable existence. They generally have lands which they and their servants cultivate, but the amount of little perquisites which fall to their lot in the course of a year from festivities and social observances of this kind is very considerable.

The. food being now about cooked, two or three brawny attendants, nude to the waist, but with the sacred thread over their shoulders denoting their sacerdotal caste, came forward, each bearing on his shoulder a pile of freshly-gathered, sweet, clean and crisp leaves of the great floating water-lily. These leaves form a dense umbelliferous mass over the surface of the tanks and lagoons which lie like jewels embossed in every nook and angle of the forest country where there is a depression.

The leaves are gathered by the mullahs, or fishermen caste, and are hawked around the villages whenever any feast of this sort is going on. The leaf itself is about the size of a very large dinner plate, and as it has a little depression at the point of junction with the stem, it forms in itself quite a natural and certainly graceful dining plate.

To each seated visitor one or two of these leaves were now distributed, and then the steaming pots of rice, each grain beautifully plump and pearly, and separated from its neighbour, were brought up, and handfuls—not spoonfuls, but handfuls—were ladled out with pleasing impartiality to every squatting and expectant guest.

Behind the rice distributors came others apportioning the goats' flesh and the curries.

On every leaf a little pile of pearly rice was flanked by a. steaming mess of currv, and a little mound of smoking meat or fish.

Next came a distribution of various masalahs and achar —that is, chutaees, condiments, and pickles.

But not content with this promiscuous mixture, your gastronomic ideas would have received a rude shock had you seen what next was added to the miscellaneous provision.

"What was that, think you?

Neither more nor less than a good round handful of jagree, or very coarse native sugar. But this was not all.

It was going to be a rare bhoj, and no mistake. For now, in the middle of the leaf, where the stalk had been cut off as I have described, one more addition was made by another attendant who flopped down as the crowning chef d'oeurre a dripping handful of rich, luscious, clotted cream, or curdled milk, which is looked upon as a great delicacy by the natives, and goes by the name of dahee or dhyre.

But these were only the lighter parts of the feast, what a Scotchman would call the kickshaws. These were only-intended to be the toothsome accompaniments to the more solid viand which was next served out.

This took the form of enormous barley meal and flour chupattees.

Rather leathery these latter, it must be confessed, but savoury withal, as they had been well fried in a plentiful allowance of boiling ghee or clarified butter.

Shade of Epicurus! can you fancy the repast? And yet it would have done your heart good to have seen the zest with which the heterogeneous mass of comestibles was consumed, and the celerity with which it disappeared.

The capacity of some of the guests seemed to be infinite.

The famous feats of the porridge-eating Cornishnan, Jack the Giant Killer, would have been completely put in the shade by the performances of some of the participants at this famous bhoj.

Several greedy fellows I noticed, not content with stuffing themselves till they emulated, nay exceeded, the performances of the most absorbent boa-constrictor in the neighbouring forest, dexterously transferred several chupattecs from the hands of the hospitable dispensers, and succeeded, as they thought unseen, in secreting these beneath that portion of their anatomy which was nearest the ground.

One would have thought they intended, like an old hen, to brood over their chupattees and hatch out a new lot.

But the cunning rascals were intent on providing for the inevitable time when hunger would again reassert itself.

So quickly watching for an opportunity when they thought no one was looking, they slipped the chupattees out from beneath them, and secreted them in the folds of their flowing robes behind their backs.

And so it is that human nature asserts itself much in the same way all the world over, whether it be a Sunday-school feast in Great Britain or a bhoj in Pagan Hindostan. Next came a distribution of quantities of mittai or sweetmeats, after which pan soopetree—that is, prepared betel-nut, cardamoms and other spices were handed round. All this terrific gorging had been going on to the accompaniment of the deafening brattling and clanging of several tom-tom players, hom-playing demons, and other musicians (?), whose combined efforts formed a pandemonium of sound which might have driven Apollyon himself crazy. Having, however, satisfied my hunger, although I certainly did not partake of the miscellaneous olla podrida I have described, I did not wait for the hungry onslaught of the poor half-starved, expectant outsiders, but as I was anxious to get into Soopole before nightfall, I made my salaam to my hospitable and delighted entertainer, and starting once more on my so often interrupted journey, made up for lost time by hurrying on across country, and I need not weary the reader by more minutely recounting the rest of the adventures which befell me on this memorable day of crowded incident.

Suffice it to say, that after ploughing my way through dense jungle tracts, and floundering through many a treacherous quagmire, I arrived, weary and sore from the rough jolting of this prolonged journey, safely at Soopole, where I received a hearty welcome from the deputy magistrate and his dear little wife, and after a bath, some supper, and a good hot whisky toddy, and a humorous narration of the day's incidents, I was soon safely asleep in bed.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus