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Good Words 1860
Aspects of Indian Life During the Rebellion


At Delhi Mr Russell found himself "in the ruined streets of a deserted city, in which every house bore the marks of cannon or musket shot, or the traces of the hand of the spoiler. . . . As the gharry (travel cart) rattled along at the foot of the huge red wall, not a creature was to be seen except a hungry pariah, (semi-wild dog,) "or an impudent crow. The walls of ruined houses, covered all over with bullet marks, stared out dully at us with their Windless eyes of windows." Further on, a few soldiers appeared, lounging about, while English children looked out of the glassless windows, and "a few natives of the lower order strut through the wide street." Received with luxurious hospitality by the Commissioner, Mr Russell proceeded the same evening to visit the ex-king. The description of this miserable shadow of royalty, a "dim, wandering-eyed, dreamy old man, with feeble, hanging nether lip, and toothless gums," has been often quoted, and is repeated by Mr Russell Himself, from his Times' letters. Yet Mr Russell's reflections upon his fate deserve our attention:—

"He was called ungrateful for rising against his benefactors. He was, no doubt, a weak and cruel old man; but to talk of ingratitude on the part of one who saw that all the dominions of his ancestors had gradually been taken from him, by force or otherwise, till he was left with an empty title, a more empty exchequer, and a palace full of penniless princesses and princes of his own blood, is perfectly preposterous. . . . We, it is true, have had the same right and the same charter for our dominions in India that the Mohammedan founders of the house of Delhi had for the sovereignty they claimed over Hindostan; but we did not come into India as they did, at the head of great armies, with the avowed intention of subjugating the country. We crept in as humble barterers, whose existence depended on the bounty and favour of the lieutenants of the kings of Delhi. . . . An English lawyer in an English court of justice might shew that it would be very difficult for our government to draw an indictment against the king of Delhi for treason, for the laying of war against us as lords paramount, or even for being directly accessory to the murder of the poor ladies who fell victims to the brutal ferocity and bloodthirstiness of a Mohammedan mob. . . . The position of the king was one of the most intolerable misery long ere the revolt broke out. His palace was in reality a house of bondage; he knew that the few wretched prerogatives which were left to him, as if in mockery of the departed power they represented, would be taken away from his successors; that they would be deprived of even the right to live in their own palace, and would be exiled to some place outside the walls. We denied permission to his royal relatives to enter our service ; we condemned them to a degrading existence, in poverty and debt, inside the purlieus of their palace; and then we reproached them with their laziness, meanness, and sensuality. We shut the gates of military preferment upon them—we closed upon them the paths of every pursuit—we took from them every object of honourable ambition; and then our papers and our mess-rooms teemed, with invectives against the lazy, slothful, and sensual princes of his house."

As he "visited the remains of our trenches, and looked out over the decaying parapets, upon the city and its great circling sweep of wall and bastion and battery," the traveller "saw it was the pride, self-reliance, and greatness of a conquering race alone, which had enabled a handful of men to sustain and successfully conduct the most hopeless military enterprise that was ever undertaken." But at the same time he felt ''that, had we been demi-gods, we must have failed, if the enemy to whom we were opposed had possessed the ordinary intelligence and skill of any European soldiery." The defences of the city were mostly put in order by our engineers; for, "it is a most extraordinary proof of the blind confidence of our Indian authorities in the status quo," that being '' bound by express treaty not to quarter European troops in the city, or near it," they "prepared Delhi with such skill and care for a defence," and placed an arsenal within it.

At Delhi Mr Russell visits two of the chief architectural monuments of Indian Mohammedanism. The first is the great mosque of the Jumma Musjid, "one of the grandest temples ever raised by man. There is a chaste richness, an elegance of proportion, and grandeur of design in all its parts, which are in painful contrast to the mesquin and paltry architecture of our Christian churches. Assuredly, if our rule in India were to be judged by the edifices which have arisen under its inspiration, it would take the lowest rank in the order of Indian government.". . . In reference to a proposal which has been "warmly urged, that we should destroy the Jumma Musjid," Mr Russell observes:—"The Mohammedan element in India is that which causes us most trouble, and provokes the largest share of our hostility. Our missionaries make no progress in the Mussulman districts. Our religious and educational movements are watched by the moulvies and fanatics with the greatest suspicion; above all, the recollection of the days when the Mohammedans were paramount is more recent and active in their minds than the memory of Hindoo glories. . . . But if we destroyed every temple they have in India tomorrow, we should only add to the intensity of their hatred, recruit their fakeers and fanatics by millions, dishonour our own principles of Christian toleration, and furnish every casuist in the bazaars with powerful and irresistible weapons wherewith to meet our own missionary preachers. . . . The governor who shall find some healthy use for the energies of the Mohammedan nobility and gentry will confer a great benefit on India. Such centres of their intrigues as Delhi and Lucknow are now broken and destroyed, and it is to be feared the discontented and disaffected will take refuge in the neighbouring independent states; and I, for one, would rather keep the mischievous spirits within the reach of our hands, and inside our own territories, than let them go through all the inimical Mussulman states to excite animosity and hatred against us."

On his way to see the other architectural pride of Delhi, (though, indeed, situate sixteen miles off,) the Kootub Minar, the traveller passes, half-way, "Suftur Jung's tomb, .... a grand edifice, in a grand enclosure of red stone," covering "more ground than St Paul's"—"a mausoleum of which any country might be proud"—but has not time to visit it. The road lies through "a dreary waste of plains.....On all sides tombs and ruins, ruins and tombs, broken-down walls, arches of ancient brick, mouldering monuments; and, above all, in the distance, like a pharos to guide one over this sea of desolation, rises the tall, tapering cylinder of the Kootub," built in honour of some famous saint, "about 250 feet high, covered from top to bottom with the most elaborate and finished carvings, inscriptions, and Kufic characters," (the oldest form of Arabic writing.) A leopard had taken refuge inside, so that none of the party dared enter. On their return, the writer is struck by the sight of '' the miserable sheds in which the outcast population of the city, forbidden to return to their homes, are now forced to live," stretching for miles along the road-side; more squalid and vile than aught, "save the wretched creatures who haunt them, once, perhaps, rich merchants and shopkeepers."

From Delhi Mr Russell proceeded to Kurnaul and Umballa, through a thorny, ill-cultivated country, yet peopled by a "far finer race than the inhabitants of Bengal." At Kurnaul, "a decaying, miserable city," though with "venerable-looking old mosques and ancient buildings," the people "looked very insolent and disaffected." For fifty-six miles from thence to Umballa "the road is so bad that we do not travel more than two and a half to three miles an hour," ceasing at last, fifteen miles from the town, in a "chaotic track of stones,"—this being, nevertheless, the road by which our soldiers, our munitions, and provisions of war "were sent to Delhi, and by which our mails travel from Umballa." At the latter place, he writes, "one of the civilians who visited me boasted that he had hanged fifty-four men in a few hours for plundering a village ! Now, I can readily comprehend the hard necessity which could force one of our officers to punish these criminals, but I cannot understand how any educated gentleman could take pleasure in his task; and I plainly indicated as much. However, I do not imagine that any expression of my opinion could affect the sentiments of a man who regarded the odious duty with intense satisfaction, and who regretted that he had not 'more of it.'"

From Umballa (the road being now impracticable for carriages) Mr Russell proceeded, with an officer, his companion, in a palkee, (palanquin or litter,) provided with wooden slides and doors; and it will give some idea of the labour which is wasted in India for want of roads, when it is stated that the two Englishmen had in attendance upon them for the journey "upwards of 140 men!" Further on, this conveyance has itself to be exchanged for a "jampan," a "light sort of arm-chair, with shafts before and behind, between which four men are harnessed as bearers." A journey of rather less than two days takes the travellers to Simla, the chief mountain-refuge of the sun-weary European. Here, for about six weeks, Mr Russell remained almost wholly laid up, yet found time to note many traits of Anglo-Indian life which deserve recording.

It would appear, then, that nowhere does the pride of race exhibit itself with more grotesque exaggeration than in this almost English region of India, under a sun whose attempered rays ought, if anything, to restore over-heated Britons to something like a decent coolness of mind. Lord William Hay, the Commissioner, is, indeed, among "the opponents of the Jack Ketch school of government." But here is a sample of what he has to deal with:—.

"An officer entered and sat down at table. After compliments, as the natives say—

"Briton (loquitur)'I say, Lord William, I want to ask your advice. Can I lick a fellow for serving me with a summons—a writ, you know ?'

"Lord William—' No. If you lick a man, you must take the consequences. Do you owe the money?'

"Briton—'Why, yes; but the d—d nigger came up and annoyed me, and I want to give him a hiding. It's too bad that gentlemen should be insulted in this way by those confounded impudent rascals about the courts.'

"Lord William—'Well, but you know those men must do their duty, and they must be protected in the discharge of it. As you have asked me, I must beg of you not to think of such a thing, or my assistant will have to notice the case.'

"Briton—.'The whole country's going to the d—1! How can you expect gentlemen to come here to be insulted by those bazaar-blackguards and those confounded summons-servers! I'll lick'------&c, &c., &c. {Exit.)"

* * * * *

"Simla must be a very odd place. In addition to the little scene of this morning, an officer calls to know whether he cannot ' take the law' of a shopkeeper, named Anderson, here, ' for refusing to give him credit;' and a lady comes to Lord William, begging him ' to be good enough to pay the amount for which you gave judgment against me in your court to the plaintiff, as I really have not got the money at present.'"

* * * * *

"There is certainly a change wrought in the character of many English people by their residence in India. The judges of the courts tell me they are much troubled by the pseudo-aristocratic prejudices of all classes of Europeans against paying their bills till they are forced into court. To-day an officer was summoned by his servant for wages due; and as he had dismissed the man without payment, he was ordered to attend and give evidence in his defence. Instead of doing so, he wrote to the judge, to say he hoped he would not be required to appear, as, in fact, the man had broken things of more value than the amount of his wages; adding—(this, mind, to the judge of the court!)—he would take good care to put it out of the fellow's way to summons him again, as he had ' no notion of putting up with such conduct on the part of a dog of a native!' Imagine how such a man would treat those who were placed under his command, or were subject to his jurisdiction, if he became, as very probably he will be, invested with magisterial functions."

Of the general behaviour of the "young gentlemen," who are up at Simla on leave and sick certificate, Mr Russell says, after personal experience at a later period:—

"There can be no more convincing proof of the very lax notions of discipline and decency of these young men, than the excesses of their conduct, which would not be endured in any place where a sound public opinion existed, or, indeed, any public opinion at all.....Our position would be improved, and our national character would be exalted, by the repression of acts of Mohawkery. And as public opinion, such as it is represented to be by the press in India, is as much in favour of the Mohawks as it was in England in the days of Queen Anne, we must provide some means of correcting the evils of the low standard which Indian life has forced upon us. I think that every Englishman in India ought to look upon himself as a sort of unrecognised, unpaid servant of the state, on whose conduct and demeanour towards the natives may depend some of the political prestige of our rule in the whole empire. He is bound to keep the peace, to obey the law, to maintain order and good government. In the hill-stations he certainly does not exhibit any strong inclination to adopt these views of his position. Our manners are said to be much improved recently, but even now gambling is carried to an excessive and dangerous extent, and there is not a season passes without damage to reputations, loss of fortune, and disgrace to some of the visitors."

Accordingly, Mr Russell describes a visit at nightfall to the Simla club. At or before dinner—to which already a little party has come down from the card-room—"as a general rule, all serious questions are tabooed," while queen's officers, company's officers, and civilians form separate knots. "Cheroots follow closely on the removal of the last jelly; brandy-panee and more wine not very unfrequently succeed." Our Indians "up at the hills do not pretend to pay the least attention to the presence of old officers, no matter what then-rank or age. The 'din' grows faster and louder as the night advances. The brigadiers look uneasily or angrily over their cards at the disturbers, but do not interfere. There is a grand crash of glass, and a grand row at the end of the room, and the Bacchanalians, rising with much exultation, seize 'Ginger Tubbs' in his chair, and carry him round the room as a fitting ovation for his eminent performance of the last comic ballad, and settle down to ' hip-hip-hurrah, and one cheer more,' till they are eligible for their beds, or for 'a broiled bone' at old Brown's.....Hence the reports of the bazaar people, the rows and scrapes that reach us in the mornings.

* * * * *

"Nothing is more remarkable during one of these effervescences than the behaviour of the native servants. They stand in perfect apathy and quiescence, with folded arms, and eyes gazing on vacancy, as if in deep abstraction, and at all events feigning complete ignorance of what is going on around them." We imagine that really they don't think about our doings at all. But Mr Russell "asked a native gentleman one day if he ever heard that our servants complained of us, or laughed at us, or tried to enter into the spirit of our revelries;" and his answer was, "I will speak the truth, if the sahib will not be displeased at it. .... Does the sahib see those monkeys ? They are playing very pleasantly. But the sahib cannot say why they play, nor what they are going to do next. Well, then, our poor people look upon you very much as they would on those monkeys, but that they know you are very fierce and strong, and would be angry if you were laughed at. They are afraid to laugh. But they do regard you as some great powerful creatures sent to plague them, of whose motives and actions they can comprehend nothing whatever."

It is impossible not to feel at once that this is a true statement. My God! is it come to this, that Englishmen, in that great country of which the awful charge has been committed unto us by God, should live and act so forgetfully of their Christian calling, as to appear in the eyes of the poor heathen but as a set of fierce baboons, sent on earth, by an unseen power, to plague them! And it is well known that, in some native minds, our rule assumes a yet more dreadful shape—that we are deemed an incarnation of pale-faced Siva, the destroyer-god of Hindoo worship, whom it would be impious to resist. And, alas! most dreadful of all, Christians even seem wellnigh ready to accept such an impersonation; for Mr Russell says that, in despair at the little success of the gospel in India, '' many Christians are driven to wish and pray that some one, or some way may arise for converting the Indians by the sword." ....

One of the most pitiable features about the Anglo-Indian aristocracy of colour, (which, indeed, has been already glanced at,) is, that it is not even homogeneous, but contains within it a number of yet more contemptible exclusivenesses. "The social distinctions are by no means lost sight of in India; .... and the smaller the society, the broader are the lines of demarcation. Each man depends on his position in the public service, which is the aristocracy; and those who do not belong to it are out of the pale, no matter how wealthy they may be, or what claims they may advance to the consideration of the world around them. The women depend on the rank of their husbands.

Mrs A------, the wife of a barrister making £4000 or £5000 a-year, is nobody as compared with the wife of B------, who is a deputy-commissioner, or with Mrs C------, who is the better half of the station surgeon.....The trades-people keep apart from the Kerannies," (writers,) " and the latter do not associate with any beyond the limits of their own class. And what is the consequence, in the midst of a native society founded upon the hierarchy of caste? .... The natives, who are shrewd enough to observe these distinctions, .... believe that the sahib-logue" (master-folk) "have caste in their own way, and, with some plausibility argue that, though we disavow the name, we are animated by the spirit which induces them to refuse to eat with us, or with others of inferior castes."

Pah! let us get away with Mr Russell out of frothy, frivolous Simla, to accompany Lord William Hay to Kussowlie, for an investigation "into the conduct of a European who was accused of corrupt practices in the contracts for Government roads. In Lord William Hay, we may rejoice to find a man, and no longer an English man-baboon, and one who is appreciated accordingly by the natives. Mr Russell mentions the pleasant sight of the villagers "all dressed in their best, and out in front of their villages, or on the sides of the roads, waiting to pay their respects to the Burra Sahib," (great lord;) "the women in their best nose-rings, bangles, and trousers, retired inside their doorways, or perched on the house-tops;" the village authorities, after greetings and compliments, running beside Lord William's horse, "telling him all the news of the district, giving him reports, making complaints, asking for favours—all in the best humour, and with the utmost affability." Many of them, he adds, '' are handsome, pleasant-looking fellows, not so swarthy as Spaniards;" and, indeed, more than once he dwells on the singular beauty of some of the women. From what he heard at Kussowlie, however, he was "led to believe that a system of bribery and corruption prevails to a large extent among the lower order of our employes in that department. The native contractors are expected to pay a large sum to the small officials by way of gratuity, and the sums thus paid are clapped on the price of the contracts. The practice is so notorious, that there is an understood tariff; but it is the general impression that the person whose conduct is now under investigation .... will escape if he be guilty, owing to the difficulty of procuring evidence."

Another and a longer excursion was to the hill state of Rampore or Bussahir. Their course lay along a road originated by Lord Dalhousie "as a great artery for the commerce of Thibet and the neighbouring states with India;" as far as it goes, a monument of Anglo-Indian engineering skill, but not only unfinished, but ''in parts failing into bad order and ruin, from neglect and want of money." The worst consequence of the withholding of funds has been "the virtual breach of faith on the part of Government towards the hill chiefs, who had been obliged to contribute large, and in some cases "excessive sums" for its construction. Thus Mr Russell mentions further on the visit of a poor hill chief, "whose case is only too common. He pays as a tribute 2000 rupees (£200) a-year; he owes 17,000 rupees more, most of which is money borrowed at ,£12 per cent., and his estates yield him only 5000 or 6000 rupees a-year. A good deal of this debt has been contracted to defray his share of the Thibet and Hindostan road." (Is it credible that his tribute should not be remitted, at least whilst the road remains unfinished and unrepaired ?) Road or no road, however, men are the beasts of burden; and though forced labour is to a great extent abolished, Mr Russell doubts "whether the inhabitants of any district would venture to incur the displeasure of the Burra Sahib by refusing to carry his baggage. They came most unwillingly. The 3d. or 4d. a-day which they may receive, though in itself a large sum to them, may be a very inadequate remuneration at a time when they are busy in their fields. I have been told pitiable tales of the sufferings of these poor people whilst this very road was being made.

When a great personage, like the Governor-General or the Lord Sahib "(i e., the Commissioner)" is moving to or from Simla, several thousands of coolies are collected about the station, where they live as they can, be the weather fair or foul, robbed by the small native officials of their miserable pittance, at a time when the great demand for their simple food causes the price to rise enormously. I am assured that on such occasions many perish on the road; but that is considered as a matter of very little consequence."

(Remember the triumphal progress which Lord Canning was lately making throughout India, and think, from this sample, what it must cost the unfortunate people.)

There was at this time a matter in dispute between the Rajah of Bussahir and his subjects, involving a question which, in fact, very deeply concerns the welfare of India under our own rale. The Rajah's minister, "a very hard-headed, crafty, astute-looking gentleman," sought, by "our representations and advice," to collect the sovereign's revenue in money, and not in kind as heretofore. A clear saving of 33 per cent. by the change was held out to the tax-payers. But both the hereditary aristocracy and the mass of the people resisted the change, (and eventually with success,) declaring that they had got no money, but had sheep and grain. The Rajah, nevertheless, seems to have been popular, and Mr Russell dwells on the ''burst of enthusiasm of these wild mountaineers," who, on the occasion of the great festival, at the sight of the short, round-faced Rajah, "rushed down and toiled up the hill-sides to feast their eyes on his velvet skull-cap and velveteen dressing-gown, and, with glistening eyes, shouted out, 'Long life to the great Rajah!'.... How they did shout, to be acre! How they hurrahed when the Rajah placed his royal toes in his ancient heirloom-looking slippers, and began to descend the hill-side, supported by many dependants!" On the festival itself, as celebrated in honour of the fearful goddess Kalee, I have no space to extract more than a few sentences:—"It was a piteous thing to see those poor hill-men, with flashing eyes fixed on that dreadful idol, dance round it.....There are missionaries at Bhotghur, near at hand; but we have, alas! made our Christianity the terror of the heathen, not their comforter."

One or two other hill chiefs are visited on the excursion. The following remarks on their wretched position, as dependants upon us, deserve our attention. "If these small potentates," writes Mr Russell, "improve their little states, they are afraid of increased demands for revenue from the dominant power, or possibly annexation; if they neglect their possessions, our representatives rebuke them; if they do nothing at all, they are described as idle, sensual princes; if they take an active interest in politics, they are regarded as dangerous or intriguing, whom it were wisdom to look after; and they are debarred from the military service, which is the great resource and amusement of princes in other parts of the world."

It only remains to be mentioned, as an instance of the beneficial effects of the mountain air upon a European constitution, that Mr Russell, who started for his excursion "a helpless cripple," found himself, on his return, ''able to walk five or six miles with trifling inconvenience." J. M. L.

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