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Self Lost in Service - Alexander Duff of India
Chapter VIII. Hinduism in DangerI

THE increasing number of converts who were baptized shortly after Dr Duff's return was a splendid testimony to the valuable work of his colleagues during his absence and to the fact that the system had life in itself, but it raised the very important question :—How were the converts to make a livelihood? The loss of caste is the most dreadful ill that can befall a Hindu, and it inevitably follows baptism. His kindred, however much he may continue to love them, desert him; it is abomination to eat with him, even to speak to him. The hand is accursed that ministers to him. He is avoided as if plague-stricken. His only refuge is a solitary, friendless and uncomfortable death amid the scoffs and revilings of his fellows. Until their number made this impracticable, the converts lived with the missionaries. In order, however, to relieve the missionaries of this burden twelve British merchants and officials in Calcutta, nine being members of the Church of England, sent Dr Duff £1000 to build a home for the converts, while in the church a special collection was made each year for their support, until, as tutors in some families, they could earn their own living.

In the alarm which these conversions caused, one lad was removed from the missionaries' house to which he had gone, and kept chained at home. At first force was used but in vain to make him change, but when that failed the attempt was made to tempt him to sin, and so become unworthy to make Christian profession. This would not prevent his continuing to be a consistent Hindu, for, as one of their own people has said, "A Hindu sins religiously." It was all in vain, however; the place of the convert's captivity was discovered, and with the aid of the law he was rescued, baptized, and lived an earnest Christian life.

Another lad who had been removed from the Institution for the same reason, but who never forgot what he had learnt, could hold out no longer, and, six years after this occurred, made profession and was baptized. The Hindu community was now thoroughly roused and resolved to start an Institution for the teaching of English and Western science on purely secular grounds. The result of such teaching would surely result, as has been seen, in disbelief in Hinduism or any religion. Two years later a Hindu society was formed to prevent anyone belonging to any caste, sect, or party from educating his son or ward at any of the missionary Institutions in Calcutta under pain of ex-communication. Even threats of violence towards Dr Duff were soon suggested. Still the work went on.

Invitations from Home

When Dr Chalmers died, Dr Duff was deeply exercised by a proposal made by the Church at home that he should leave Calcutta and become Principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh. He fully appreciated and acknowledged the honour conferred upon him. That men of the world would regard this offer as contemplated elevation or promotion he recognised, but he was saddened beyond measure by the receipt of letters of congratulation from friends. As he considered the claims of the mission field were supreme, he asked to be allowed to magnify his office by remaining a missionary to the heathen. For the sake of the heathen, and "especially the people of India, let me cling all my days to the missionary cause." When the proposal became known in Calcutta, evidence of the changed regard for him was strikingly manifested. He, who had been told before that his coming to India would prove a curse, was now assured by colleagues, other missionaries and friends, and by the Eurasian community that his leaving Calcutta would be a public calamity. His own converts implored him to stay. Hindu students and ex-students urged him not to leave them, and, most striking of all, a remonstrance to the people of Scotland from twelve learned Brahmans, written in Sanskrit, deplored the loss to education and to the community which his leaving Calcutta would involve.

Though he declined the Edinburgh Principalship, Dr Duff willingly accepted the invitation to come home and rouse the Church again, for he was tired and very badly needed rest, for, as he wrote to the Convener of the Foreign Mission Committee in Edinburgh, "work of this sort, which was once my delight, is far too much for me now. One hour of it now tells on my frame more than six hours were wont to do when I first landed on these shores." But however wearied he might feel, he would never rest on a couch unless compelled by sickness to do so, lest he might thereby encourage native lethargy. He did all he could to stir up the people. He even sent home for a set of quoits in the hope that he might induce them to take exercise by interest in the game. The quoits were used once! On another occasion he tried to interest them in battledore and shuttlecock.

During the financial crisis which fell upon Calcutta in 1848, Dr Duff wrote thus to a friend:-

"You must know what a sad state of things we have had in connection with mercantile affairs. I always dreaded the influence of Britain's great idol, Mammon, fully as much as that of 'the Man of Sin,' or infidelity, because it is, if possible, more insidious. The idolatry of Mammon has been increasing with such fearful strides that it threatens to swallow all other idolatries, which is nothing more than the swallowing up of gigantic evils by another more gigantic. For the idolator of Mammon is one in whom the love of God and of neighbour becomes extinguished."

An Indian Tour

This is how Dr Duff took rest! Before returning to Scotland he visited many of the missionary stations of the different societies working in India. His medical adviser sanctioned a tour up the Ganges and Jumna (in the cold weather) provided, he added, all precautions necessary when travelling in India were taken, and all needless fatigue and exposure were avoided. To this programme Duff added a tour through Southern India.

As his journey had to be made in a land where the sun is king, the heat at times suffocating, the dust a constant irritation, and even writing can be very fatiguing, he passed from place to place chiefly durirg the night. He was carried in a palki, which is like a covered litter sufficiently broad and long to admit of lying down and deep enough for sitting up in, with sliding sides, and borne by four bearers by means of a pole attached to either end.

Where the path was good, sleep might be enjoyed, but when the very narrow way wound through the jungle, the lair of wild and venomous animals, rest might not be so easy. The quickened pace of the bearers, their louder grunt or chant, the increased glare of the torches must have been very disturbing. One night, for example, the missionary, who often walked along the narrow path before turning in, had lain down in the palki, when a sudden shout from the bearers, together with the jerking of the paiki to one side, indicated that something was amiss. He found that the bearers had almost trodden upon a large and deadly snake lying on the narrow path along which he had just been walking in the dark. Fortunately, instead of striking, it tried to escape, but was followed and killed.

On another occasion, while Dr Duff was walking ahead in the dark, the cries of his bearers stopped him as he was on the point of stepping into another branch of a river they had recently crossed. At times the overarching of the banyan and other trees made the darkness so intense that it seemed to oppress one like a mantle. Then when they passed a collection of huts, the lights, the din of voices and the surrounding darkness combined to make a scene that reminded one of the realms of darkness which poets have described. When passing from Travancore through the Western Ghauts, as the range of hills is called, the path ran in the bed of a steep rocky stream, and here, where it was more pleasant to walk than to bear the inevitable jolting in the palki (the height at which they were travelling tempered the heat and made this possible), he enjoyed a reminder of his boyhood days when he leapt from boulder to boulder along a Highland burn. One evening, after darkness had fallen amongst these heights, on looking out from the bungalow he saw the steep sides of the mountains glowing, as if lighted up by the blaze of numberless stars, with myriads of fireflies. In the extreme south of India he had to cross a waste of reddish sand, where there were no made roads, and when the wind blew it carried the sand like snow in a blizzard, obliterating both sky and path so completely that even the local guide wandered from the path. When travellers cross this waste at night they take their direction from the stars.

In this way, as he says, Dr Duff" galloped" over the country, travelling by night and during the day sitting grilled in a solitary bungalow (public buildings built at certain places for the use of travellers), or incessantly employed at a mission station, talking to friends, inspecting schools, or addressing adults or children. In one of these places he describes his experience thus :-

"I touch the table but draw back my hand, it is so hot. I take a sip of water; it is more than tepid, more than lukewarm, it is positively hot. When I write, no matter how heavily, the ink is not out of the pen when it is dry on the paper. The heat compels a man to remain as quiet as he can in the house in order to have some chance of barely existing or passively vegetating." What a terrible obstacle is this to active, all- pervading missionary exertion! (One more proof that India's children alone can fully overtake missionary work). But it is noteworthy that even in such exhausting heat Duff would not seek relief by lying on a couch.

In the Jungle

On the other hand, Dr Duff noticed as he passed along that with irrigation and cultivation this climate draws out from what is otherwise a sandy waste the most luxuriant crops and foliage. Why then, he asks, is there so much jungle and waste land? His obvious interest in what concerned their temporal interests endeared him greatly to his pupils and to the people of India. "Can it he," he adds, "the land tax which renders these efforts unremunerative? Then as a Christian I would strive to get the tax reduced." The singing of birds in the jungle refreshed him amid the dreary waste, as he had never heard such vocal music from the choristers of the Indian groves before. "It transported me at once to a Scottish landscape on a fine rosy morning in May, when every branch of every tree seems animated and vocal with diverse notes, but all chiming and blending into the harmony of a choral band, with its ten thousand gay and merry songsters. I was riveted and entranced. I stood and listened, and stood again. And in the associations excited by these sweet melodies, which constituted a chime that has been transmitted unchanged from the dawn of creation, I quite forgot the surrounding jungle, which might prove the lair of the tiger or the serpent, till the fire-like rage of the King of day, mounting in the Orient sky, reminded me there must be an end of all earthly joys, and that I must hasten on in my solitary journey."

If stones could only speak what a thrilling story the ruined fort of St. David, near Cuddalore, could have told him of the doings of that small and obscure company of British merchants who depended originally upon the protection of the fort for their existence in that foreign land, then ruled by the mightiest emperor in Asia, and their gradual rise from this position to become themselves the rulers of the vast Empire! When Dr Duff reached Tanjore and Tranquebar he visited with deep emotion the scenes of the labours of Ziegenbaig (with whom George I. corresponded), Schwartz and their comrades, the pioneers of Protestant missionary effort in that great stronghold of Hinduism.

Hindu Temples and Caste

The architecture of the Hindu temples amazed him. At Seringham the wealth and magnificence of the pagoda, with its priceless vessels of gold and the valuable jewels with which the swami or idol was decked during festivals was beyond anything he had yet seen, and fully justified the description of these treasures which he had hitherto regarded as pure romance. The massive gold suit cover of the idol was made like the armour worn in former days in separate parts. The hand part alone, from the wrist to the tip of the finger, reached from his own elbow to the tip of his middle finger. At Madura the splendour of the halls enabled him to understand the overwhelming impression they would make upon a warm imagination when they were lighted up for a festival and there was musical accompaniment.

Caste, the rule of life for the sincere Hindu, the greatest obstacle with which missionary effort has to contend, he found everywhere supreme. By this rule millions of India's people were regarded by their neighbours of good caste as untouchable, and they were not allowed to come near, much less to enter, a temple to join in worship. And to his deep regret Dr Duff found at that time Christian converts from a higher caste would not worship even with converts from a lower caste or from the pariahs or untouchables, unless there was a clear space kept between them on the floor of the church where they sat. This rule penetrated even to social circles, for an Indian Christian lady who called with her little girl upon the missionary's wife would not allow the child to eat a piece of rice cake when it was offered, because the cook who had made it was of a lower caste. 1± was more saddening still to him to learn that, after the English service, which was held in the Syrian Christian College Chapel, water had to be sprinkled through the building to remove any pollution before the Syrian service which followed could be held.

At Ramnad the interpreter from the Rami's palace called on him; he was a member of the Church of England, who owed his position to his knowledge of both Tamil and English. He was the son of parents who were members of the Church of Rome. After learning English he began reading the Bible, though his father seriously warned him against doing this, as it would only do him harm. On the principle, as he replied, that you can only tell whether food was good or bad by tasting, he continued reading. Finally he left the Romish Church, and became a member of the Church of England. Because of this change, he admitted that no member of his former caste would now eat with him, yet when invited to join the missionary at a meal he declined lest he should lose caste.

As, however, he remembered the rock from which they had been hewn Dr Duff found much to cheer him in the sincere character of the converts, the life of the true Christian villages, and the steadfast endurance of those who had to pass through bitter persecution. He recognized the greatness of the need of workers, the earnestness of those in the field, the hopeful outlook, the grand beginning and the splendid opportunity before the Christian Church. He was also more than ever convinced of the need for training an educated Christian ministry familiar with the habits and thoughts of those whom they addressed.

The following example makes this clear. A tribe, amongst whom there were Romish and Protestant converts, was addressed by a European missionary on contending earnestly for the faith. Though the speaker carefully explained that this meant the use of spiritual methods, not those of physical violence with which they had been familiar, hearers understood his address in the way that appealed to their unregenerate pugnacity. Casting about for some opportunity, they resolved to make a village of their own serfs Christian by force. Having surrounded the village they refused to allow their serfs the use of the village well until they agreed to become Christian. After three days they gave in, and, in the end, became a respectable Christian community.

Visit to Ceylon

In order to gratify a desire which he had cherished, Dr Duff resolved, when so near the coast, to cross to Ceylon to visit the missions there. It was only after a third attempt that he succeeded in reaching the island. On the first occasion, as the crew, in spite of strict orders to see that this was done, had not ballasted the boat, it heeled over so far when running before the wind that the water washed over the side. The boat was gradually filling, and the party had to return. Duff's friend, who had anxiously watched with a glass from the shore, noticed the danger, and was glad to receive the missionary safely back again. On the second occasion Duff was warned against making the attempt, because the wind, which would enable the crossing to be made, might keep him wind-bound in Ceylon for some time. He succeeded, however, in reaching the island at last, though, wretched sailor as he was all his life, he never passed through so miserable an experience. He had to lie on a bench on the windward side of the vessel, and here he had the greatest difficulty in preventing himself from rolling off on to the floor, where two or three inches of water were washing about. As the port-hole was leaking, he and all his belongings were drenched. But exhausted as he was, he was able to preach on that Sunday evening for his friend, Dr M'Vicar, Colombo.

The Ganges and Jumna Valley

In the cold weather Dr Duff continued his tour, visiting all the stations and historic localities in the Ganges and Jumna valley. The imposing ruins of Futtehpore Sikri, which lie about twenty-four miles to the west of Agra, greatly impressed him. On the inside of the gateway, Akbar, the greatest Mogul Emperor already referred to, had inscribed in Arabic the words; "Jesus, on whom be peace, has said the world is merely a bridge; you are to pass over it and not build your dwellings on it." At Agra he visited also the tomb of the Light of the Harem, the Taj Mahal, with its wonderful beauty. At one of the stations, while travelling along the Ganges valley, though only one person attended, Duff conducted a regular service. That person became a zealous and liberal member of the Free Church in Calcutta. Dr Duff always felt that the important message he had received should be delivered whether his audience was one, as on this occasion, or twenty thousand, as once happened in Wales. At Lahore, where he was the •guest of Sir Henry Lawrence, he preached to upwards of two hundred in the great Hall of Government House, the great Durbar or audience Hall of the Mohammedan Emperors and Sikh Maharajas. While at Lahore he was greatly impressed by the illustrations of "Preaching without words" at the parade of the 4th Sikhs, when Captain Cohn Mackenzie, who had raised the regiment, bade them farewell. Like Carey, Duff knew the value to mission work of this "cordial friendship."

Down the Indus

From Lahore Dr Duff made his way by boat down the Indus. Here is his description of his accommodation:-" In the centre of a large flat-bottomed boat there was erected a small hut of bamboo reeds and thatch of about twenty feet in length, which was divided into two parts, one for my cabin, the other for servant and cooking place. The inside of it was hung with a thin coarse yellow cloth so as to render it more commodious. For flooring I had strong reedy mats. Inside of it I got my travelling palki, which served me for a bed at night, and the roof of it for a table by day. Beside this I had no furniture, not even a chair."

On this trip he found the dust most trying. "Towards noon every day a strong wind arose, and all around the dust was raised so that the sky looked as if covered with thick whitish, yellowish haze, all from the horizon to the zenith. Then a sudden gust of wind would, here and there, raise up the dust like a solid column of gigantic stature into the sky, and several of these columns might be seen moving about like giant warriors engaged in aerial gymnastics. When a gale blew it was like the densest snowstorm. The whole canopy of heaven was surcharged with dust; the sun was invisible. When the gusts were most violent one could not see from one end of the boat to the other, and at no time during the day beyond a few hundred feet." In another letter written on the 'Western border of the Runn of Cutch he said: "I assure you I am now lodged for the night in a cow- house, and right glad and thankful to God for the shelter of such a humble dwelling in this dreary and most barren waste." The Runn of Cutch is a salt marsh which is flooded by the tide for several months of the year.

It was at Sehwan on the Indus that Dr Wilson and he met after so many years, compared notes and experience, and together crossed the Runn of Cutch on their way to Bombay, whence Duff sailed for home. Whether it was due to weakness of spirit through physical exhaustion, or that the memory of his former work weighed upon him, he wrote in his diary "The Church at home is expecting too much from me as an instrument," and, recalling the words in Isaiah, he prayed that "the Church would be led to trust less in the servant and more in the King and give all the glory to Him."


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