India and the Indians - Part 7

Part 7

Perhaps what, to English eyes, appeared the most obvious blot in the proceedings was the absence of any hostess. Both the old Inamdar and his son had several wives, but except the English ladies who came as guests, there were no females of any sort visible. One of these ladies asked me whether the Inamdar would be displeased if she suggested a visit to his wife, because she had once met her at one of those parties which some kindly English people have tried to organise for the benefit of the more exclusive women who live behind the _purdah_, or curtain. So I told the Inamdar that the Madam Sahib would be pleased to visit _his_ Madam Sahib. He smiled, and bowed, and made a little bustle as if he was going to make arrangements for it, but I do not think that anything came of it.

The point that I was anxious to learn from my attendance at the Inamdar's party was whether, on the whole, it is advantageous for English people to accept such invitations or not. The conclusion that I came to was that, since it helps to some extent to bring about a mutual understanding, it is a good thing for kindly Government officials and their ladies to do, but that it is not the sort of occasion when there is scope for a missionary. As a guest he is bound to be courteous to his host, and if any practice is indulged in which may call for rebuke, it is not easy to administer it without the appearance of rudeness. Already some modern-minded Hindus urge that all religions are alike, and that Christianity being suited to Europeans and the Eastern religions to the people of the East, there is no need to change. If the teachers of Christianity share in the social gatherings of educated Indians with the politeness and cordiality which such occasions demand, it may foster the impression that unbelief and idolatry are no real barriers to mutual unity of heart, and that one religion is as good as another.



Missions still in the experimental stage. Effect of education on conversion. Brahmins and conversion. Caution needed in time of famine. People applying for work; caution again necessary. India and dissent; rival organisations, effect on the heathen; dissenters drawing to the Church.

It is an evidence of the perplexity which attends mission work in India that many apparently elementary principles are still undecided questions and subjects of discussion. Things are still in the experimental stage. Almost every conceivable form of missionary enterprise has been attempted; but the result is that no one method in any department stands out as being signally better than another.

Perhaps the only definite conclusion that has been arrived at is the obvious one, that the man is of more importance than the method, and where there has been marked progress it has always been the personality of the worker, sanctified and energised by G.o.d's grace, which has been the moving power.

The conversion of India has been a slower and more difficult task than some people at one time antic.i.p.ated. Possibly it has been hindered by too much haste at the outset. India has to be gradually educated up to Christianity. At one time it was thought that the best way to do this was to provide an advanced secular education, and that the mind thus elevated would be ready to grasp and accept spiritual truths. No doubt this has been the result in a few instances, but the more general outcome has been that secular interests have become so absorbing that spiritual matters have been crowded out, and the mind has proved less rather than more receptive.

Great efforts have been made to reach the so-called "high-caste" men of India. This was done, partly under the idea that their traditional intelligence and opportunities of education would make them specially capable of religious thought, and partly because it was felt that the conversion of some of the leading men of India would surely result in the conversion of the rest. There have been many notable conversions of Brahmins, so that these efforts cannot be said to have been wholly without result. But it must be added that the results do not seem commensurate with the amount of labour and money which has been expended in this particular direction. It was, perhaps, not sufficiently taken into account that mere intellect may in itself be a barrier to the reception of spiritual truth, unless there is also the grace of humility and the desire to be taught. A Brahmin who has been trained from his earliest boyhood to think himself worthy of divine honour, naturally finds it difficult to sit at the feet of a foreign teacher who preaches the need of repentance.

Nor does the conversion of a Brahmin lead to the conversion of other Indians to the extent that might have been expected. Possibly the unpopularity of Brahmins as a cla.s.s, although they are still to some extent venerated and feared, may partly account for the fact that the conversion of some of them has not made others anxious to follow their lead. In the case of low-caste people the conversion of a few has, in many instances, led on to the conversion of large numbers. The mult.i.tude of village folk who have, at various times, pressed forward for baptism has been in certain places a real perplexity. The clerical staff has been wholly inadequate to deal with them, and the greater part of their instruction has had to be left to lay teachers, not very competent for the task.

In some of the earlier famines missionaries were not always sufficiently alive to the risk of people professing a desire for Christianity, when their real motive was the hope of getting special consideration when famine relief was distributed. In some districts serious lapses took place after the distress was over. It is now the almost universal rule in missions, in order to avoid the risk of imposture, not to baptize any converts during the period when a district is suffering from famine. The time of probation before baptism has also been gradually prolonged in most Church missions. But some workers, in their natural eagerness for the extension of Christ's kingdom, are perhaps too ready to accept the protestations of ignorant people in poor circ.u.mstances who say that they wish to become Christians. The work which is given to them as a test is, almost of necessity, lighter than that which they have previously been accustomed to do. Whether the limited amount of genuine spiritual desire probable in such cases should be accepted as sufficient, is difficult to decide. Some of the older missions, with an experience covering a long period, make it their invariable rule not to accept a religious inquirer for definite instruction if he is out of work. He is told that he must first get work, and then come for instruction.

Not unfrequently people who come to a mission applying for work, say that if this is provided they are willing to become Christians. When the village church of St Crispin was building, quite a number of Hindus at different times asked for the post of caretaker of the building when completed. And when it was urged in reply that a Christian church ought to have a Christian caretaker, several of them said that if the post was given to them, they were ready to conform as regards Christianity. Some dissenters still baptize rashly, with scarcely any probation and less teaching, and some have drifted so far from gospel truth that they receive converts into their society without baptizing them at all.

India has both suffered and gained from the number of religious sects who have sent missionaries to convert her. No religious society seems to think its machinery complete unless it has a mission in India. The point of view from which she may be said to have gained from this is, that where the need of workers is so great, any Christian teachers who are in earnest are, in a sense, welcome. Nor are theological differences so acute in the pioneer stage of work, when only elementary principles are being taught. But, on the other hand, the result is a bewildering multiplication of missionary efforts. Apart from the amount of conflicting and erroneous teaching which is ultimately the inevitable outcome, there is a great waste of energy and funds in the support of a number of organisations which might be concentrated into one. Also, rivalry amongst missions of conflicting opinions has resulted in mission stations being planted in close proximity to each other. Roman Catholics in particular are offenders in this respect. The consequence is that, while on the one hand some districts are overdone with mission workers, on the other hand there are vast tracts of country without any.

The varied forms in which Christianity is thus presented is not so great a stumbling-block to the heathen people as might be thought likely. Hindus and Mohammedans are themselves divided up into such numerous sects that they are not much surprised to find that such is the case amongst Christians. But it is amongst earnest-minded Indians who have been baptized by dissenters that difficulties develop. As the spiritual energies of the convert from Hinduism become more p.r.o.nounced, he often begins to crave for what the religious system in which he finds himself is unable to give. If such souls come into touch with Catholic influences, they often discover that it is the grace of the sacraments which their souls are needing, and there is amongst Indian Christians a fairly steady flow from dissent into the Church.



Transfer of responsibility to Indians. Clergy desiring independence. Indian characteristics will remain. Want of tidiness; experiences in an Indian Priest's parish. English stiffness. Indian Suffragan Bishops. The Indian Bishop's Confirmation. Changes of head in a mission. English workers losing sympathy; consequent loss; need for prayer concerning this. The opinion of an old missionary; "too much of the individual, too little of the Holy Spirit."

One of the perplexities of mission work in India is how best to gradually transfer European responsibility and control to the people of the country. Some of the attempts in this direction not having been altogether a success, there have been missionaries who, despairing of any other arrangement, went into the opposite extreme and endeavoured to keep everything in their own hands. Their att.i.tude also towards their native workers, and even towards their brother priests, was not of a nature calculated to draw out loyal and cheerful service.

Amongst Indian clergy there is a widespread desire for greater independence and responsibility, backed up by many of the laity, and unless it can be rightly met in some way, it might easily become a serious danger. If people are ever to learn to run alone, they must be given the opportunity of doing so. If some stumble in the attempt, that is only what must be expected at first. Amongst a few failures, there are other instances in which the experiment of leaving the management of affairs to Indians has been all that could be wished.

Indian priests have been put in charge of wide districts which they have shepherded with unwearied labour; and when congregations are apparently backward in the financial support of their church, they will nearly always rise to the occasion manfully and do all that is required, if the management of the church funds is definitely put into their own hands.

It is a mistake to expect to find in the government of affairs by Indians certain characteristics which are essentially English. The Indian Christian remains an Indian, and from some points of view it is best that so it should be. Exactness and order and punctuality are matters which most Englishmen think much of. Most Indians think little of them, and few pay much attention to them. A really neat house or field is rarely to be seen in native India. The sort of neatness and order which an English priest thinks of importance in the church under his care would never be found in the church of even the most conscientious Indian priest. It usually takes a long course of patient training before the Indian representative of the English parish clerk learns how to lay a carpet, or to put kneelers or chairs, straight. And though he learns his lesson at last, and then for ever does it rightly in the prescribed way, he does not himself see any benefit in it. And the crooked carpet and irregular row of chairs, which would disturb the devotions of the lady workers in the mission, would never be noticed by a single member of the Indian congregation.

I once spent a night in the village of a devout and widely-known and highly-respected Indian priest, now gone to his rest. Evensong was held in the open air in front of his house, because of certain insect intruders which had taken possession of the room which, at that time, did duty as a church. Since those days a permanent church has been built. Goats and cattle coming home, and taking short cuts to their quarters, were a little disconcerting to the preacher, inexperienced in interruptions of the kind, but the regular congregation took it as a matter of course.

The next morning I was to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which, of course, had to be in the church, in spite of the intruders. I went at the appointed hour and found the Indian priest just beginning to make preparations. Vestments and altar linen and many other things were mixed up in a box, in complete disorder, and it took him a long time to sort out what was needed, and when at last all was ready, the result would have been heart-breaking to an English sacristan. Service necessarily began long after the proper time, but that created neither surprise nor annoyance. The fact being that defects of the kind are not felt to be such by an Indian congregation, so that they did not in any way diminish the influence for good of this excellent priest.

It is often the very stiffness and rigidity of English methods which hinders their acceptability amongst Indian people. On the other hand, the Indian priest is more patient in dealing with the people's difficulties. Rustics in England relate the history of a quarrel, or sickness, or death at great length. But their tale is brevity itself compared to the Indian's story of a grievance, and he expects to be listened to patiently till he has had his full say. This the Indian priest readily does, and he himself is not wearied by the recital. But the English priest, even before the end of the preface, has probably said that he has no time to listen to all these details, and that they must settle the matter amongst themselves.

The circ.u.mstances of the country at its present stage of development, with a certain number of English, mostly official, gathered into cantonments, or scattered here and there in isolated places, and a limited but steadily increasing number of Indian Christians, who are for the most part not in touch with the European element, make an Indian bishop for any of the dioceses as at present const.i.tuted out of the question. But there are certain country districts covering a wide area in which the number of Indian Christians is very great. An Indian suffragan bishop might well be given jurisdiction over one of these areas. There are certainly some Indian priests fitted for such a trust. The result would probably be a great growth of spiritual life, and wholesome church organisation, and self-support. The tradition of an Indian bishop for Indians getting established in this way there would eventually, if he acquitted himself well in his limited sphere, be no difficulty about his ministering to English congregations when it was convenient that he should do so.

But it should be observed that the Indian bishop must be allowed to retain his own individuality, and to do his diocesan work in his own Eastern way. Very possibly he will arrive for his Confirmation long after the appointed time, even if he does not send a message at the last moment to say that he will come to-morrow. If, by any misfortune, there should be a European in the expectant congregation, he will say indignantly that this is what comes of appointing Indian bishops. But the Indian congregation will be quite undisturbed. Those who happen to have come punctually will sit about in the church compound, in the sun or shade according to the time of day, and chat happily till the bishop arrives. His lateness would not create the least shade of annoyance. He himself will probably have to wait in his turn for the candidates from a neighbouring village who were vague about the time.

But he will do so with the utmost cheerfulness. Except that unpunctuality means waste of time, it will have no other drawback.

When the actual Confirmation takes place after these possible delays, it will be carried out by the Indian bishop with the greatest solemnity. He and the candidates will have the fullest faith in the wondrous Gift bestowed by means of the imposition of the Apostolic hands. His address will be powerful and persuasive, and given with full knowledge of the characteristics of the people of his own country. Everyone will return to their homes happy and thankful, and in telling their tale of the wonders of the day it will not probably occur to anybody to mention that the bishop arrived late.

Now and then mission stations suffer, somewhat in the same way as a parish here and there in England does, from the change of policy brought about by a change of head. It is in practical, rather than in religious matters, that a new head is sometimes the cause of unrest.

Missions being at present chiefly worked by societies which have their own theological bias, the new-comer is generally of the same way of thinking as his predecessor. But anyone coming to India for the first time, in spite of everything being new and strange, is apt to think that he sees his way clearly, and that the work has got into a rut and that a general upheaval is necessary. The tendency of the Indian is to be conservative of established traditions. He does not say much, but he has his own way of showing the new head that he does not approve of his changes. Some resign office, of others it is decided that they have been too long at their posts, and the result is that a certain number of old and faithful workers cut themselves, or are themselves cut adrift. The new head ultimately establishes his position, and many of his changes are probably improvements, but this has been accomplished at considerable sacrifice. Missions worked by communities are not wholly free from the same defect, though they suffer less than others.

English workers do not always retain the spirit of sympathy and graciousness with which they began their ministry in India. The defects of the Indian character are particularly galling to some Englishmen. The sort of faults which the average Englishman is least willing to condone are unpunctuality, untidiness, promises not kept, inexact answers and false excuses, forgetfulness of favours received but fresh favours asked for, slovenly work, laziness, and obstinacy.

When the missionary first meets his flock he sees pleasant and courteous manners, and readiness to please and to obey, a certain apt.i.tude and handiness in work, a real spirit of devotion, and many such-like qualities. The dark skin, the picturesque dress or absence of dress, the bare feet and light graceful walk, all these things appeal to the new-comer.

As time goes on he has to deal with the realities of things.

Difficulties, failures, disappointments have to be faced. A reaction sets in. He thinks that the people need a firmer hand, that they have been dealt with too lightly. He no longer keeps the good side uppermost, and begins to see only the defects. He gets the mission possibly into good external order, but much of the grace and beauty of his ministry goes out in the process, and there will be no attractive force at work to draw in the heathen. The worker in India needs to pray constantly that the spirit of love and sympathy, and the yearning to help souls with which he began, may never be allowed to grow less; that he may retain his spirit of buoyancy; that he may keep hopeful and expectant; and that while firm and strong with the people who need his support, he may only love them the more when he has learnt really to understand and know them.

A missionary in India of long and wide experience wrote that he had often pondered as to the reason why the Church in that land has never become a real indigenous plant. He went on to say--"Even if we were to put aside the tradition of St Thomas having preached here, we know that, at any rate from the eighth century onwards, with only a few intermissions, there has been Christian effort at work in the country." The conclusion that he came to was that "there has been too much of the individual and too little of the Holy Spirit. St Francis Xavier baptized thousands of children, and then went his way. The Church has always depended on foreign aid, and when left to itself has either died away or kept itself alive by maintaining a sort of Christian caste. The Eastern people are, to a certain extent, pliant and easily led. The somewhat masterful foreign missionary had bent the people to his will and his ways. The house has been built square and solid, and finished in appearance. But it is a building, not a plant.

It has not within it the power of life and growth. There has been more building than sowing. It depends on the force of the individual, and but little room is left for the power of the Holy Spirit to make it really fruitful."



Women singing as they grind. Singing to the bullocks.

Singing on the road. The rest-house. Soldiers singing.

Palanquin bearers. Indian taste in music. Indian musical instruments. The native band. The "Europe" band. Sir G.

Clarke on Indian music. Evil a.s.sociations of native tunes.

Indian choir-boys.

One of the commonest sounds in India is that of women grinding at the mill. You not only hear the grating of the revolving stone, but since it is a hard and monotonous task, the toilers almost invariably enliven it by singing. They do so rather melodiously, and it sounds pleasant in the distance. Their songs are to a large extent made up on the spur of the moment, and form a sort of running comment on what they are doing, or on what is going on around them.

This custom of singing in order to relieve the monotony of labour is universal in certain departments, and even the beasts get to look upon it as a stimulus to work. When drawing water from the wells, the man in charge of the operation invariably encourages the bullocks with a cheery sing-song, at the critical moment when they are raising the heavy leather pouch of water from the well, and if he was to remain silent, the Indian bullock, who is a strong conservative, would certainly refuse to start. When they travel round and round, working the mill which squeezes the juice out of the sugar cane, or, in the same fashion, causing the great stone wheel to revolve which grinds the mortar, their master alternately whips them and sings to them. I once listened to the song which the man sung when they were making mortar. It was something like this--"Oh bullocks! what a work you are doing. Going round and round making mortar for the masons. Oh bullocks! go faster, go faster! The masons will cry out, oh bullocks, for more mortar--more mortar. So, go faster, go faster," etc., etc.

On bright moonlight nights large parties of men and women come trotting briskly along the Yerandawana road, bearing baskets of fruit on their heads for the Poona market. Indians nearly always go at a trot if they have an unusually heavy burden to carry far, and it appears to make their task easier. I do not know whether other nations have the same custom. There are many reasons why travelling by night is preferable. The air is cool and pleasant, there is no scorching sun to injure the fruit, and it gets into market in good time before the rush of business commences. A charitable Hindu has built a rest-house for the benefit of travellers, just opposite the gateway of the village mission. Such rest-houses are to be found all over India.

They are only what we in England would call a shed, but they provide as much shelter as the climate demands, and they are a great boon to the many who travel the roads on business or pleasure. The Yerandawana rest-house is often thronged with people, because it is so near Poona that they can get some hours sleep, and yet get into market early. But the travellers, who go swiftly along the road with their burden of fruit, often sing delightfully in chorus for the greater part of the way, so that what is really a task of great toil seems almost transformed into a cheerful excursion.

Indian soldiers on the march are sometimes allowed to sing as they go, or occasionally to whistle, which has a delightful effect. Some years back, when visitors could only reach certain hill-stations by being carried in a palanquin, unless they were st.u.r.dy climbers, because the steep paths were not practicable for wheels, the team of six or eight coolies who acted as bearers, turn and turn about, sung a good deal, especially in the more difficult parts of the journey. They did not realise that the Sahib they were carrying sometimes understood the vernacular, and was able to appreciate their poetical comments on his weight, or their musical speculations as to what sort of tip he was likely to give them at the end of the journey.

People sometimes ask whether Indians are musical. It is difficult to say. Indian taste in music is certainly peculiar, and perhaps deserves greater study than it has yet secured. But it would lead the casual listener to suppose that music amongst them is still in the elementary stage, corresponding somewhat to the scales and time exercises of the beginner. At the Inamdar's afternoon party, the musical performance given by the two Mohammedans (p. 80) was probably a fair sample of what would be considered refined music. One of the performers had a kind of guitar with a large body, made out of a gourd with a section sliced off and then faced with wood, and with a very long stem. The whole instrument, with all its fittings, was exquisitely made.

The other man had a large and peculiar instrument, called a _bin_, in which the long keyboard is supported at each end with a big gourd.

There dried gourds are largely in request for musical purposes. The _bin_ was also artistically finished, and adorned with bra.s.swork and inlaid woods. It had five or six strings. The performer played on it with his fingers after the manner of a guitar, one of the gourds resting on his shoulder. These instruments being so attractive in appearance, and apparently large and powerful, and the two Mohammedans setting to work with great solemnity, and a commendable hush coming over the a.s.sembled company, I expected a musical treat. The performers began by tuning up with great care; but the tuning continued so long that I began to wonder how soon the real music would begin. Just then the musicians ceased, and I found that the apparent tuning was the actual performance and that it was all over. The audience appeared to be pleased with what they heard.