India and the Indians - Part 12

Part 12

"As the pure flame feeds indiscriminately on all sorts of fuel, the living timber of the forest as well as the refuse of the dung-heap, so ought the ascetic to accept willingly whatever food is given to him, never reflecting on its value, nor whether it is stale or fresh."[2]

[Footnote 2: Oman, _The Ascetics of India_, p. 158.]

The reader will be able to judge for himself how far the application of these ill.u.s.trations is calculated to help a man in his religious aspirations towards asceticism.

The fact that Hinduism is a religion which still has a great hold upon the majority of the people of India may be partly explained by the shallowness of the Indian mind, which was referred to in the last chapter. If there had been greater depth of feeling, and keener perception of what the soul needs, the Hindu religion could never have held its ground for so long. In spite of what many writers say about Hinduism permeating every corner of domestic life, which is true in a sense, it does not mean that "religion," as we understand the word, permeates the Indian household. In an article in the _Fortnightly_ of September 1909, an educated Hindu, Mr. P. Vencatarao by name, writing on the subject, "Why I am not a Christian," after stating amongst other things that "Hinduism has no fundamental dogmas," goes on to say: "Hinduism is much more a matter of social intercourse and domestic life than of religion in the proper sense of the word." And that is perfectly true.

It is a particularly easy religion to follow. The moral code is left undefined, and for the child depends upon the individual characteristics of the members of the household in which he grows up.

The only clear rule of life which the Hindu possesses is concerning the observance of caste. That is to say, he must never take food or drink which has been in any way contaminated by the touch of a caste lower than his own, and marriage may only be contracted within the limits of his own caste. This rule he observes strictly, at any rate in public, from the earliest childhood onwards. But it conveys no moral obligation. On the contrary, it tends to self-esteem and selfishness. Nor does it often cause any serious inconvenience. Or when it does, as for instance when travelling, the exigences of modern life have brought about a number of small concessions to the strictness of the rule concerning food and drink, so that the inconveniences have been mitigated or removed.

Numbers of Hindus break their caste rules in private. More than once a high-caste visitor in the verandah, when he was alone, has asked me for a drink of water; and there is no breach of caste so heinous as to take water from the hand of a Christian. Now and then a Hindu lad will display such an audacious courage in religious matters that it partakes rather of the nature of a boyish freak. Several big Brahmin lads, most of them being about sixteen or seventeen years old, had been visiting the Mission-house rather frequently and showed a good deal of interest in Christianity. One of them, when sitting in the verandah, suddenly said to one of the Fathers: "Could I have a drink of water?" The Father replied that he would fetch him the water if he wished. The lad said: "Bring it, please"; and when the gla.s.s of water was brought, he drunk it in the presence of his companions, and thus deliberately and publicly breaking his caste. Unless he had been prepared to follow his action up in some definite way, it had no particular use; but it was not for us to suggest scruples. It need scarcely be added that the visits from that particular group of lads ceased, and it was long afterwards that, meeting the perpetrator of this rash act in the road, I asked him what penalties he had had to undergo for what he had done. He denied that any results followed, but the cessation of his visits gave the lie to this a.s.sertion.

[Ill.u.s.tration: NIRARI BHOSLE.]

One of the village boys, who is endowed with a strong spirit of mischief, implored me to cut off his pigtail in order that he might have the fun of seeing his mother's horror when he returned without it. But as he had no present intention of becoming a Christian, and it would have made a row to no purpose, I refused to be an accomplice to his mischief.



Tigers not often seen. Unlooked-for visits. Appearance of a tiger. The dead panther. Government rewards. Annual return of people killed. The tiger's den. Jackals; their cry.

Wolves. So-called "wolf-boys." The Asiatic lion.

When an English boy meets a missionary from India the only thing he wants to know is whether he has ever seen any tigers, and he is disappointed if he gets an answer in the negative. The truth is, that though wild beasts are still numerous they keep out of sight as much as possible. They soon realise that man is their enemy, and ordinarily they give him as wide a berth as possible. When a grandee wants to shoot a tiger the difficulty is to find one, and an elaborate and lengthy campaign has to be organised, and an army of beaters called into requisition in order to gradually bring the tigers within range.

A forest officer of long experience, in that jungly region where the mouths of the Ganges open out into the Bay of Bengal, told me that though tigers are known to frequent those parts, he had never seen one.

In the hot weather in India English people sleep with doors and windows wide open on the ground floor, or in the verandah, or even quite out of doors in their compound, without apprehension. Whereas in England, where there are no wild beasts, and thieves may be supposed to be under control, doors and windows are barred at night as if the house was about to sustain a siege.

But where there are no barriers of sea to prevent wild beasts from wandering wherever they please, unlooked-for visits are possible, even if improbable. Animals are sometimes obliged to abandon their usual haunts in time of drought, when the normal sources of water have dried up, and they wander farther afield and come nearer to the haunts of men than is their wont. Occasionally people are taken by surprise by the advent of a panther, or even a tiger, in a district which they were supposed to have deserted.

One of the Brothers and some of the Mission boys were climbing about the hills in holiday time in the neighbourhood of Kala, a small village twenty miles or so from Poona, and in the heat of the day rested for a while in the shade of a thicket of small trees.

Continuing their walk, they were startled on looking back to see a tiger jump out of the thicket in which they had been resting. Tigers rarely come into the open in the middle of the day unless they have been disturbed, and his sudden appearance was soon accounted for when an Englishman, accompanied by some native beaters, emerged. The Englishman fired, and the tiger gave a terrible roar, as he generally does when wounded, and went back into the thicket. To dislodge him was not an easy task, because a wounded tiger is, of course, a most dangerous beast. But eventually he broke cover again, and the Englishman shot him dead; and the boys had the novel experience of inspecting at close quarters the body of a tiger who, not long before, had been sheltering from the rays of the noonday sun in the same thicket as themselves.

One Sunday a bullock-cart drew up at the Mission-house, containing a large panther which had been shot, some eight or nine miles away, by a Christian who is one amongst the few privileged natives allowed to carry a gun. He was bringing the body in order to exhibit it to the local authority, so that he might claim the Government reward. The skin also fetches a good price. The scent was getting rather strong, so after photographing the successful hunter and his son, standing over the beast in the approved fashion, we were glad to hurry him on.

Its claws and teeth were in a very dirty and neglected condition, which may partly account for the great danger of even slight lacerations made by an animal of this kind.

Government sometimes spends as much as 8000 a year on rewards for the destruction of wild beasts and snakes in British India, and the annual return of the number of human beings reported as having been killed by them shows that they are still sufficiently numerous to be a power in the land. In a recent return this number reached the enormous total of 24,576. But snakes were accountable for 21,827 out of these deaths. In the same year, in the case of 48 people killed by tigers in the Central Provinces, nearly all were the victims of one tigress which had been infesting the jungle for some years. A confirmed man-eater becomes very crafty, and difficult to kill.

There are many hills and dales where wild beasts found a congenial home from which they have gradually retreated in the face of man and civilisation. A den in the hillside, visible from the Mission bungalow at Yerandawana, is still spoken of as the "Tiger's den," and a remote, but probably true tradition lingers of an immense tiger who lived there and who was eventually hunted down and slain by order of the then ruler of the district. At the present day, in the immediate neighbourhood of Yerandawana the only wild creatures left are the fox and the jackal, with an occasional hyena. Jackals visit the outskirts of the village at night to see if there is anything eatable to be picked up, and they sometimes race across the Mission compound in the early morning on their way home. It is to be feared that they visit the Hindu cemetery, where the graves are often so shallow that the bodies are scarcely covered. The low-caste men, whose duty it is to bury stray corpses, do not expend more labour over their task than they can help.

Jackals generally travel in companies at night, and they utter a most peculiar and rather attractive sharp cry in chorus, which they are commonly said to repeat after exact intervals of time. But solitary jackals are often to be met with. In the mountainous district somewhat farther away wolves are still found, and they do a little damage amongst the flocks of the villages. Some two or three hundred persons are carried off yearly by wolves in British India. The majority of these victims are very young children who have strayed away a little from their parent's hut.

There is a widespread belief in rural India that wolves, instead of devouring these babies, occasionally bring them up amongst their own young ones. It has been questioned whether these stories of "wolf-boys" have any foundation in fact. A schoolmaster, whose evidence was reliable, told me that he had actually seen a boy of this description brought to a mission in North India by people who had found him in the jungle. They led him by a string, as if he had been a wild animal. The Mission accepted the charge, and the boy proved quiet and docile; but he never learnt to speak, nor, in fact, was it possible to teach him anything. He did not join the other boys in their games. When he went to church he sat there quietly, but without any apparent understanding of what it meant. He learnt, however, to smoke, and made signs to indicate that a cigarette would be acceptable; and if one was given him he gave a kind of salute by way of acknowledgment, which shows that his mind was not quite a blank. He seemed to be about ten years old when the people brought him, but whether he was still alive the schoolmaster did not know.

Even in this case there was no direct evidence to connect the boy with wolves. But the natives have so many stories of the kind that it would seem likely that there is some truth in them. It is not inconceivable that the young wolves might welcome the arrival of the strange child as a new playmate, and that if its life was spared at the first the wolf-boy would, through his human nature, gain a sort of ascendancy over his foster-parents, and they would eventually fear to hurt him, after the fashion of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's _Jungle Book_.

The Asiatic lion is sometimes spoken of slightingly, as if it was a feeble creature and almost extinct. A visit to Kathiawar, in Guzerat, would dispel the idea. In one forest alone, only a few years back, there were said to be a hundred lions, which were the terror of the surrounding villages. One of these lions in recent years killed an officer who formed one of a shooting party organised for the benefit of one of the former governors of Bombay.



The squirrel. The tame antelope. Effect of the railway.

Monkeys in Delhi. In the jungle. Wild pigs; their destruction. The mongoose. The buffalo; its milk; its disposition. The Indian donkey. Hard labour. Poor fare.

Indian callousness. Elephants. Camels. The horse.

In the jungle of trees and coa.r.s.e vegetation which surrounds many of the old-fashioned bungalows in India, the shrill, nor very musical call of the squirrel--half cry and half whistle--may frequently be heard. They gambol about the trees, and run up the walls of the bungalow, and chase each other along the eaves with apparent gaiety and freedom from care. But as you watch them through the c.h.i.n.ks of the blinds made of slender reeds, which shade the verandah from the glare of the sun, you see signs that all is not harmony even in their small world.

The grey and black striped fur of the squirrel always appears spotlessly clean, and in all their spare moments they are busy at their toilet. The bushy tail is their chief beauty, and it is scarcely ever at rest. Like so many other animals, they betray their varying emotions by the way in which they frisk it about. Their manners are beautiful, and when they have got hold of a choice morsel they take it in their paws, and sitting on their haunches eat it with evident enjoyment, but with a certain polish and grace of manner pretty to see. Young squirrels are easily tamed, and soon get reconciled to making their home in the jacket pocket of a schoolboy.

When I was staying in the bungalow of a country mission, an exquisitely graceful antelope stepped into the verandah, and entering the room where we were breakfasting, went up to my host and asked for food. He had tamed it when young, but it was now living a semi-wild life, and was often absent in the jungle for days together. In some parts of India various kinds of deer may be seen from the windows of the train. The making of a line of railway naturally has the tendency to drive the wild creatures of the district deeper into the jungle, but after a while they to some extent get accustomed to the pa.s.sing of the train, and delightful glimpses of animal life can sometimes be got when travelling. Monkeys, for instance, have insatiable curiosity, and when they have got over their first alarm the quaint sight may sometimes be seen of a row of monkeys seated on the top of the boundary wall to watch the train go by.

Monkeys have become lawless citizens of Delhi, and will no doubt greatly welcome the enlarged scope for mischief which the new city will open out to them. They travel in troops over the flat roofs, and are very bold and mischievous, and great thieves. But monkeys must be studied in their wild freedom in the woods to appreciate them. When seen leaping from tree to tree with refreshing elasticity, or from rock to rock in the open country, their spirit of fun and mischief having full scope, the sight is a delightful one. They stick very closely to their own districts, although now and then a solitary monkey will detach himself from the rest and search for pastures new.

Wild pigs are common in some parts, looking like the poor relations of their tame brethren. They do great harm amongst crops, and no weapon is of much avail against them except the gun. The Christian who shot the panther mentioned in the last chapter was largely employed by the Hindu farmers round about to shoot any wild pig that came into their fields. It was for him a profitable job, because, besides his fee, he got the carcase of the pig, for which he could always get Rs. 10 from a, who regarded the flesh as a great luxury. Wild pigs are also chased in the so-called "sport" of pig-sticking, which is popular amongst some English residents.

Now and then the mongoose, useful as a destroyer of snakes and rats, may be caught sight of, with his long coa.r.s.e fur, running across the road, or hunting along a fence, much in the same way as a weasel shows himself in England, although the mongoose is a good deal larger.

Sometimes they will even venture into a bungalow to prospect, and young ones are easily tamed and become domestic pets.

Every morning a lumbering buffalo shambles into the compound to be milked on the premises, in order to ensure getting the unadulterated article. Even then it is expedient to look into the bottom of the vessel to see that no water has been put there before the milking begins. Buffalo's milk is not very rich, and the cream, such as it is, produces a white and tasteless b.u.t.ter, which has generally to be doctored and coloured before an Englishman will look at it.

The buffalo for the greater part of the year has not much flesh on his huge skeleton, and is a sorrowful-looking creature with an expressionless eye and an inky skin, and often with enormous horns which give him a formidable appearance. But except when buffaloes fight amongst themselves they are not savage beasts, although their temper is uncertain, and they are said to be liable to attack an Englishman in districts where they are not accustomed to the sight.

Generally buffaloes appear to take no interest whatever in life, except to regard it as a burden too heavy to bear. A whole herd is sent out to graze under the care of a small boy; they are in astonishing subjection to his despotic rule.

The Indian donkey is very small, and its foal is a beautiful little creature; but its life-long sentence of hard labour begins early. It spends its days carrying great weights of earth, or brick, or stone, or gravel, in panniers made of coa.r.s.e sacking, for buildings, road-making, and the like. They work in droves of a dozen, or twenty, or more, according to the prosperity of the contractor. When they have delivered their burden, the men and boys who are in charge each mount a donkey, the legs of the men almost touching the ground, and the cavalcade goes for a fresh load, often at full gallop.

It is an understood thing that an Indian donkey finds its own food, how and where he can, in odd moments during the day, or at night when he is turned adrift to wander as far as his hobbled legs can take him.

The brief period of plenty, when gra.s.s springs up after the rains, is so brief that it must only make the rest of the year appear the more blank by way of contrast. Indians are credited with being humane, because they are unwilling to take life, but there are probably few people who are so callous concerning the sufferings of the animal world. The owners of the donkeys have a cruel custom of slitting their nostrils, because it is supposed to moderate the loudness of their bray.

[Ill.u.s.tration: MILKING THE BUFFALO.]

Elephants are used much less as beasts of burden than was the case in days gone by. Some are employed in military service and in the pursuit of big game, but their chief function is to make an imposing appearance on grand occasions in some of the native states. But the fact that elephants were not used in the royal processions at the last Delhi Durbar, will probably lead to their being gradually less used even for ceremonial purposes. Camels are employed for all sorts of work in Northern India, and add greatly to the picturesqueness of the road and street traffic. The horse plays a subordinate part, comparatively speaking, in the labours of India, except for hack duty.

And though wealthy people, both English and Indian, drive handsome horses, the motor-car is rapidly taking their place in the service of the rich, or the prosperous professional, of all nations.