India and the Indians - Part 4

Part 4

After the wood had lain there for a long time, but before the old man retired, men were sent to cut it up for firewood. Half a dozen men worked hard for two or three weeks, and sawed and split quite a mountain of logs. Their day's work they measured in a primitive sort of balance, and the tally was checked by the old caretaker. Once or twice an agent from the wood-merchant came on the scene, and a war of words always ensued on the subject of methods of weighing, and the prospective payment of results. This was preparing the way for the final scene when the men began to clamour for their money. The agent declared that the wood had not been correctly weighed and that it must be measured afresh, a process which would have taken some days.

Meanwhile he said he would give them a portion of what was due, and the balance must stand over. The men on receiving their docked pay indignantly gathered up their tools and declared that they would return to their native village, which they did. The agent had no doubt counted on this final result all the time, and was able to report to his master how well he had served his interests.

The wood had no permanent guardian after the old man left. Other men came from time to time, worked for a day or two, cut up a certain amount of wood, and then threw up the job before they had been paid anything at all, and thus the wood-merchant got a good deal of work done for nothing. These are the sort of conditions under which nearly all the poorer cla.s.s of day-labourers in India have to labour.



The post-runners; their fidelity. The village post. Letters to rustics few. Popularity of post cards. Indian train-sorters. Dishonesty. Insurance. Postal privileges. Use of the telegraph; its abuse; absurd instance of this. The postman a privileged visitor.

The excellence of the postal service in India is surprising considering the difficult conditions under which it is worked. The men engaged in the collection and delivery of letters are perhaps more of a success than those who are employed within the post offices. These latter have more temptations to dishonesty.

The lowest grade of all in the service is proverbially the most dependable. These are the "post-runners," who are illiterate men who collect letters but cannot deliver them, because they cannot read the addresses. They often have very long beats in remote country districts, where sometimes there is risk both from robbers and wild beasts. The runner may be recognised by a sort of javelin which he carries, presumably for his protection; and to this are attached some jingling bits of iron or small bells, so that after dark you can detect the post-runner by this sound. More often than not his long journey extends into the night. Considering the lonely tracks through which his road frequently leads, it is to the credit of the inhabitants of the country that he is not often robbed. It is also to his own credit that he is said to run any risk rather than fail to deliver his mail-bag at its destination. His appearance, as he ambles along in shabby attire with his letter-bag over his shoulder, is not calculated to inspire confidence. But the Yerandawana letters are picked up in the evening by one of these primitive post-runners, and no instance is on record of any letter failing to reach its destination.

Post offices are at present only to be found in a few of the more important villages. The post-master is generally the Government schoolmaster, who is grateful for any addition to his small income. In thousands of Indian villages letters are only delivered two or three times a week, or even less, and they have no post-box. People send their letter to the post when anybody happens to be going to the nearest town.

When the Mission first settled in Yerandawana there was no collection of letters at all. The English mail letters, which reached Bombay on Friday, sometimes did not get to Yerandawana till the following Wednesday. But the postal authorities readily grant facilities as soon as there is a reasonable demand for them, and there is now a daily delivery; also a morning and evening collection from a post-box hung in the verandah of the Mission roadside dispensary.

Villagers at present make so little use of the postal service that greater facilities than they have already got are not yet required.

Few rustics can write with sufficient ease to enable them to write a letter, and a considerable proportion of the few letters which come to our villagers are soon brought on to the Mission-house, or to the schoolmaster, because the recipients cannot read them for themselves.

Almost all Indian correspondence is carried on by means of post cards.

It is the only country, perhaps, in which the post card may be said to be a real success. In India it exactly supplied a want. The card is cheap (it only costs 1/4d.), and it is complete in itself. Stamps and envelopes have to be wetted. The gum may have been made of the hoofs or bones of the cow, and the thought of possible defilement of caste comes in. The post card has no drawback. Its publicity, which makes English people dislike it, is not considered a disadvantage by the Indian. He reads other people's letters as a matter of course, and expects other people to read his. I have often seen a postman seated by the street side sorting out his post cards, surrounded by an interested little crowd. He and they are reading as many of the post cards as there is time for, and no one appears conscious of irregularity in the proceeding.

A post-office inspector who was travelling in the train with me told me that they have great difficulty in checking robberies committed by the Indian train-sorters, because effective supervision is impossible.

In the interval between station and station, which in some of the mail trains is often an hour or two, the sorters know that they are secure from interruption. They get skilled in detecting by the feel the presence of a bank-note within an envelope. In a country where paper currency is largely in vogue people often send money by post in the form of notes in unregistered letters, trusting to the thin note not being observed.

Many such notes get stolen by the train-sorters. Even sending half notes is not always a security, if the remitter does not take the precaution of waiting to hear of the safe arrival of the first half.

The dishonest sorter having secured the first half, and having observed the post-mark and hand-writing, will be on the look-out for the other half, which he knows is likely to come along the same route in a day or so. The only chance of getting hold of the thief is by setting a trap for him in the shape of a marked note or coin. But the Indian thief often suspects and avoids the trap. Inspectors board the train at unexpected stations, and travel for a while with the sorters, and look into their affairs; but the sorters are generally ready for them, and no sign of irregularity is visible. Nevertheless a certain percentage of thefts are brought to light, and the delinquents sent to prison. Insurance of articles sent by post is a great safeguard, as is shown by the fact that in one year recently the total insured value of articles posted amounted to nearly 17,000,000, whereas the sum paid in compensation was only about 500.

There are postal privileges in India such as England knows nothing of.

Not only is there the 1/4d. post card, but there is an inland 1/2d.

postage, for letters not exceeding 1/2 oz. in weight. The value of a money order is brought in cash by the postman and paid into your hand, and the receipt that you sign is returned by the post office to the sender, and there is no possibility of your being defrauded, because, if the money goes wrong on its way to you, the post office is responsible.

Another great convenience is what is commonly spoken of as V.P.P.--that is to say, the "value payable parcel" system. If you order something from a shop to be sent by post, the postman collects the value of the parcel before he hands it over, and the post office transmits the money to the sender. If the person to whom the package is sent refuses to pay, or if he cannot be found, the package goes back to the sender. If the goods are heavy and are forwarded by train, the railway invoice is sent by post, but it is not handed over by the postman until he has received the value of the goods. An immense amount of trouble and correspondence is saved by this system, and it is a great security to shopkeepers in a country where distances are great, and many customers unknown, or migratory, or living in out-of-the-way places.

The telegraph has become rather popular amongst Indians, and they are inclined to use it on trivial occasions. As telegrams have to be transmitted in English, I am familiar with the nature of those sent to rustic Indians, because those that come to Yerandawana always find their way to the Mission bungalow to be interpreted. Amongst the more well-to-do Indians a death is now almost always announced by telegraph. It is a new and impressive way of showing respect to the deceased, and makes it appear that he was in his lifetime an important person. In cases of sickness telegrams are despatched here and there to relations, summoning them urgently and at once, before there has been time to ascertain whether the sickness is really serious or not.

Relations hurry off from long distances at great expense (how they get the money is in some cases a mystery), and arrive perhaps to find the sick person walking about. Christians under similar circ.u.mstances act with just as much hasty precipitation as other Indians.

A most absurd instance of the abuse of the use of the telegraph happened to one of our Christian women. She got a telegram to the effect that her son was going to be hanged on the following Thursday, and that she must come at once. The woman brought the telegram to the Mission-house in the utmost consternation and distress. The son being rather a "ne'er-do-weel," his having got into some was not improbable; but that he should have committed murder, and been tried and sentenced without anybody hearing of it seemed impossible. A telegram was sent to the governor of the gaol where the lad was supposed to be. A reply was promptly returned saying that there was no prisoner of that name in the gaol. The whole thing proved to be an absurd attempt on the part of the lad himself to get his mother to come to the place where he was living. To have merely telegraphed that he was ill might not have had the desired effect, but the appalling contents of the false telegram he thought were bound to be effective.

The inevitable distress of his mother he does not appear to have taken into account at all.

Telegrams are also used as a means of putting on the screw in case of a debt, or perhaps as a means of extorting money falsely. "Send Rs. 20 at once"--"Bring Rs. 5 without fail to-morrow"--such have been some of the village telegrams. The contents of a telegram soon become public property, because a small crowd always accompanies its recipient when he comes to have it read. They listen eagerly to its contents, discuss it at length, and retail it to all absentees.


(The white paint-marks on his forehead and cheeks indicate that Vishnu is his special G.o.d.)]

The Indian postman knows that he is a privileged and generally welcome visitor, especially when he is the bearer of the bulky weekly mail from England. He steps into the verandah, or in at any of the many wide-open doors of the bungalow, with a confidence and with a consciousness that there is no need to ask permission, such as other Indian visitors do not always feel.



Spread of English customs inevitable. No national dress.

Christians and English dress. Increased refinement means increased expense; instances of this. Defects in the Indian style of dress. Beauty of the turban. Models in the Indian Inst.i.tute. The transformed policeman.

"But why are they in English clothes? Why do they not wear their Indian dress?" So said somebody when looking at a photograph of some of the Christian lads who are working in the Mission stables.

The criticism is sometimes heard that missionaries are largely responsible for the introduction of European dress and customs into foreign countries. The charge is only partially true; in many cases it is the restraining influence of the missionary which has done something to check the inevitable growth of foreign customs, even at the cost of provoking some discontent amongst the members of his flock.

The real truth of the matter is that the spread of these customs is a tide that cannot be stayed, and the most that can be hoped for is to help to regulate it, so that things obviously out of place should not creep in. As the knowledge of English spreads, the acquisition of English ways gradually follows. This naturally is specially the case amongst Christians, because so many of them are living in close touch with English people.

Indian Christians are sometimes criticised and laughed at for their frequent adoption of European dress, which often involves the adjuncts of collars, ties, studs, shoes, and socks. But in so doing they are not discarding a national dress, because India does not possess one.

Dress in India denotes religion or occupation, not country. The ample linen cloth which the Hindu folds around his waist and therewith clothes his legs, denotes that he is a Hindu. For that reason many Christians do not care to retain it. The Mohammedans have their own special garb, which of course Christians could not adopt. The English being a Christian race, it has inevitably followed that their style of dress should in India become a.s.sociated with the idea of Christianity, and few people except Christians wear it, except that coats of English cut are now common amongst all of Indians.

It is true that some missionaries who are anxious to retain Eastern customs as far as possible are nevertheless averse to the retention of native costume, because experience has taught them that it has serious disadvantages, and that it is wholesome for a Christian to be marked as such wherever he goes by what he wears. Added to which, it is a well-known fact that an Indian lad, neatly clad in English style with all those adjuncts for which he is criticised, stands a much better chance of getting work, and at a higher rate of pay, than would be the case if he made his application dressed with equal neatness, but in native garments. His English dress also secures him many little concessions and courtesies, especially when travelling, which he would not otherwise get.


Christianity rightly brings in its train aspirations for some of the refinements of civilisation, and that these involve an increase of expenditure is inevitable. Indian Christians are sometimes reproached for their inability to live on the small sum on which a Hindu of the same station manages to exist. No doubt some, partly from inexperience, have followed Western ways to a foolish extent. But the fact remains that a good Christian has unavoidably more expenses than those of the average working Hindu. He cannot spend his evenings dozing in the dark, therefore he must have a lamp, with its usual adjuncts. He has been taught to read, and needs a few books. He now and then writes a letter. He reads his Bible with his family, and says some prayers before they go to bed. His wife can sew and mend her children's clothes, and the evening hours with the lamp are of value to her. He no longer cares to go about in the scant clothing which satisfies a Hindu. He would not wish his little children to run about naked, like those of his Hindu neighbours. He must have clean clothes for Sunday, and though he can do a little rough washing on his own account, he needs the skill of the _dhobie_ for some of his wife's garments and his white Sunday suit. He is expected to contribute liberally towards church expenses; and where the number of Christians in a place is few, this burden falls rather heavily on each.

Occasionally he needs a new prayer book or hymn book. He would like to take in a weekly paper. He has begun to understand a little what is meant by home life, and so he is tempted to buy pictures and other ornaments to make his house look pleasant. Without a clock he cannot make much progress in the practice of punctuality, and he buys one in order that he may get to church at the proper time. Greater regard for cleanliness means soap and towels. He can no longer have a share in the periodical Hindu feasts when poor people, at any rate once in a way, get a full belly. On the contrary, the traditional spirit of hospitality, especially at the time of great festivals, is often a serious drain on the resources of many Christians, who, like most Indians, are generally generous beyond their means to all comers. The Indian Christian also desires to have his children educated, and though he gets a good deal of help from mission schools he does so less than formerly, and he is often told (and no doubt rightly) that if he wishes education for his children he must pay for it like other people.

It would probably be considered almost a heresy even to suggest that the various styles of dress worn by Indian men are not really more picturesque than many other styles. A street in an Eastern city, with its throng of quaintly dressed people, is much more fascinating in appearance than the sombre hues of an average London crowd in the winter time. The rich colours and the sparkling jewels of an a.s.sembly of Indian n.o.bility attract the eye by their brilliance. But if you separate the individuals who make up the crowd, and take their costume into individual consideration, you are conscious of defects. The glittering array of an Indian chief appears more adapted to feminine needs than those of a king or n.o.ble. The _dhota_, which takes the place of trousers amongst Hindus, is not really a particularly comely garment, and its loose folds are not at all convenient for working men, especially masons and carpenters, who have to climb about on scaffolds.

The dresses of Indian women in general may safely be accepted as being more picturesque and more convenient than the styles of female costume prevalent in Europe. And the turban for the men, with its variety of shape and colour, and its great practical utility as a protection from the rays of the tropical sun, is without doubt the most artistic covering for the head that the world produces. It is a sad pity that the turban is being slowly but steadily ousted by the adoption of a stupid little cloth cap, as ugly as it is useless.

How hopeless it would be to attempt to decide which is the national dress out of any of those now worn in India, might be realised even in England by a visit to a museum, such as the Indian Inst.i.tute in Oxford. There is there a most interesting collection of clay figures, admirably modelled, and coloured and draped. They represent many of the various types and dresses to be found in the country. These figures are made in Poona City, and are absolutely correct. They do not by any means include all the varieties of costume to be seen in India. Nevertheless, if you were to mix them all up together, the result would very fairly represent the motley throng which you might see in the more crowded parts of Bombay City, to which place, as a great sea-port, people come from all parts of India. If you were to select a person out of the throng as wearing a dress suitable for Christians to adopt, you would be told that that particular costume denoted either the man's religion or his occupation, or both, and for anyone else to wear it, except those of the same cla.s.s as himself, would create a false impression as to the wearer's ident.i.ty. If you were to suggest that the costume selected might be adopted as the national dress for India, you would be a.s.sured that no one would consent to wear it except the little group of people whose distinctive garb it is.

How much dress has to do with the appearance of an Indian was brought home to me one day, when a magnificent-looking policeman entered the carriage in which I was sitting, at a station near Bombay. He had on a tall blue turban, dark blue tunic with leathern belt, loose knickerbockers, and putties. His clothes were put on with extreme neatness; they were as spotless as those of a London policeman, and the bra.s.s numbers and letters polished to the highest degree. I was astonished to see this magnificent fellow rapidly divest himself of all his clothing--turban, tunic, knickerbockers, putties--there would have been nothing left, except that a Hindu wears beneath his uniform the meagre garments which suffice for everyday life, so that when he had got rid of everything which appertained to him as a policeman he was still fit to go into Indian society. The ordinary garments of an Indian are scanty, but the double set of clothing might be thought rather oppressive in the tropics. But the Indian likes to be warmly clad at any time of the year. Boys of the Mission will wear comforters and warm coats well into the hot season if allowed to do so.

The effect of the removal of the policeman's uniform was startling. He was evidently going off duty, because he handed all his discarded belongings to a friend on the platform, and he was only using my carriage as a dressing-room. The whole process of transformation only took about two minutes, and he then walked off in the opposite direction. But no one could have supposed that there was any ident.i.ty between the shabby Hindu, with shaved head and little pigtail and fluttering _dhota_, and that fine-looking fellow who first entered the carriage.