The famine of 1874—Nature of relief works — Fatalism—Humane
tendencies of British rule — Epidemics —Sharp contrasts—Crowded incidents of
planter life—A fierce hail-storm—A runaway elephant — Through the forest—Hue
and cry after a thief—A desperate fugitive— Setting an ambush — Female
furies — An exciting diversion—A desperate scuffle—Capture—Tactics of the
female gipsies—Horrible cruelty—A hapless little one—Outwitted!—The robber
escapes — Feasting amid famine—A Brahmin bhoj—Appearance of the village— The
guests—The cookery—The feast—Strange plates—A motley melange— -Prodigious
appetite—Once more on the road—Reach Soopole —Hospitable reception.
early part of March, 1874, a terrible famine raged in Nepaul and all along
the northern Bengal provinces bordering on the Terai.
On the 15th of March of that year, Sir Richard Temple, then
Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, came up with a party of officials to inspect
the provision that had been made to mitigate the famine in these remote
districts. At Caragola Ghaut, on the Ganges, enormous quantities of rice had
been stored under temporary cover, and myriads of tons in bags were stacked
up all along the banks of the river like the extended walls of some field
Having considerable influence with the riverside population I
was entrusted with the work of collecting boats to transport the rice to the
famine-stricken districts further north.
Day after day long flotillas of native boats were laden with
the welcome grain, and despatched as fast as the work could be done up the
swift Koosee beyond the Nepaul frontier, and there distributed among the
Relief works were instituted in various parts of Purneah and
North Bhaugulpore, and I had to be constantly out among the poor wretched,
emaciatcd creatures working on these embankments and roads, and altogether,
what with seeing to the hiring, despatching, and the administration
generally, of water carriage of rice and relief works on land, I had a busy
time of it.
Readers at home can scarcely realise the awful nature of such
a dire calamity as that of a famine in India.
The lower classes, as I have before stated, are practically
fatalists, and when misfortune overtakes them, they are the most helpless
creatures in existence. They have no inner resources of self-reliance, and,
leading almost a vegetable life, rarely moving many miles from their
villages, they have little or no conception of the vast world lying outside
their own immediate ken, and when their crops are smitten down with drought
or blight, or swept away by floods, they generally, not without a deep, dumb
pathos, calmly submit to the inevitable as it appears to them, and accept
their fate without a murmur.
In seasons of cholera, emigration often takes place, when all
of the able-bodied portion of the population remove to distant hill
villages; but the aged and infirm are left behind, to fall victims to the
dreaded pest, or escape as may be their "Kismet,"
These periodical scourges no doubt thinned the ranks of the
swarming hive of humanity in these thickly populous districts, and in olden
time was doubtless nature's ruthless way of keeping up what might be called
a healthy balance between those who subsisted and the means of subsistence,
although this may seem a callous way of putting it. As for hygiene, it was
However, the humane tendencies of British rule could not
allow such a state of things to continue, hence it is that now, when famine
threatens any district, when cholera or smallpox or fever or any other
epidemic begins to claim its wonted quota of victims, the humaniritanism of
British rule steps in, medical aid and medicine are promptly forthcoming,
and vast supplies of grain are sent from every point. Roads and embankments
are made for that purpose, and canals and railways are being constructed in
all directions with a view of mitigating such a calamity as famine; and the
whole tendency of English rule, as regards its native subjects, is to
conserve their lives and ameliorate their condition.
If it be cholera that breaks out, an ever active army of
members of the noblest profession known to our common humanity are sent to
battle with the dread disease, and seek to stay the hand of the destroyer.
If it be fever, the provident and humane foresight of the Government, at
enormous expense, has provided a means of coping with this evil also, and
the cinchona forests of Darjeeling, Upper India, the Neilgheries and Ceylon,
yield the life-giving and fever-dispelling quinine; and this is dispensed to
the fever-racked population at a price which brings it within the reach of
every one, or, in the Government-aided dispensaries, is given gratis, and
has been the means of saving yearly, thousands of lives.
So too with small-pox.
This favourite medium of the goddess Kali, by which she was
supposed to yearly claim her myriads of victims, is now by compulsory
vaccination much reduced in its potency for destruction. And so it is that a
new problem is now presented to thoughtful students of Indian life and
character; the onward sweep and resistless march of the army of population
is fast treading on the heels of the capacity of the country to carry its
human swarm, and the big economic problem of the future, "How shall India
sustain its teeming millions?" becomes yearly one of greater perplexity, in
the wise solution of which the most momentous issues are involved.
The magnitude of this thought has led me to digress, however.
My purpose is only in these sketches to give a suggestive narrative of the
varied incidents which make up the story of a planter's daily life, and the
reader must pursue the suggestions to such solution as may suit his
My wish is simply to show the varied calls that are made upon
the planter's life, and the demands which are constantly being made upon him
for the exercise of very much higher qualities—both moral, intellectual, and
physical—than are involved in the mere pursuit of field sports.
I would not have it thought for a moment that the planter has
nothing to do but go out day after day on his trusty elephant in pursuit of
game, and I would have given a totally false impression of our tent life in
India if the reader jumps to that conclusion. Life in India is indeed highly
dramatic, and presents the most constant and startling contrasts.
The ostentatious grandeur of the lordly zemindar, with his
retinue of sleek retainers, is sharply accented as he moves along in all the
profusion of jewelled magnificence, his elephants bedizened with gorgeous
trappings, and his importance loudly proclaimed by every circumstance of
barbaric pomp, when one hears amid the sound of the drums and the clash of
cymbals, the wailing cries of a long row of melancholy beggars that line the
roadside like Lazarus or blind Bartimaeus of old, their shrunken frames and
contorted limbs telling the most touching tale of human suffering, and
exciting oftentimes feelings rather of repulsion than of pity, so horrible
is the spectacle. Take any busy bathing ghat near a city. The contrasts are
so sharp and pointed, the incidents are so varied, the canvas is so crowded,
the phases of humanity are so multifarious, that when one comes fresh from
the quiet country, it all seems like the crowded phantasmagoria of a
feverish dream but one soon gets accustomed to it: yet ever and anon one
receives a rude shock, which reawakes his first sensations of pity or of
wonder, or of awe, it may he, and such vivid incidents as become memories
for a lifetime are constantly being presented.
Take one such—the adventures of a single day.
On Monday the 9th March, 1874, I started in the early morning
from Lutchmepore, my head factory, to endeavour to reach the small station
of Soopole, some forty miles distant, over rough and rugged country.
I had first to cross the Dhaus in one of the crank canoes I
have spoken of, and on the way across I saw a man-eating alligator. Item the
On the other side, having mounted my elephant, which was in
waiting, I had to decide a case of trespass between two angry litigants, who
sought to end their long-standing quarrel by my arbitration.
The case was one involving nice points, and it took me some
time to settle it. Item number two.
Meantime the sky had got immensely overclouded, and shortly
from the westward a fierce hail and thunder storm came sweeping up, eddying
and whirling with crushing fury and howling noise, working along in a
Thatched roofs and houses were caught up as if by a mighty
arm, and were scattered about in all directions; the hailstones, as big
almost as pigeons' eggs, with sharp, jagged edges, came crashing down with
relentless fury. I was glad to take hurried shelter in a loose stack of
refuse thatching grass and withered stalks of Indian corn, piled up loosely
near a cattle-camp, while my elephant, maddened by the stinging of the
hailstones, set his tail as straight as a ramrod, shook both guddee and mahout off
his back, and made straight back for the factory through the sluggish waters
of the Dhaus. Item number three.
The fury of the storm was soon spent, and the frightened
villagers came forth bemoaning their sad fate and sadly gazing on ruined
crops and, in not a few cases, maimed and wounded cattle; and I had to
console them as best I could by a promise of some little assistance from the
Meantime messengers were despatched to bring back the
Taking advantage of my enforced stay in the village, numbers
of poor sick creatures—most painful cases of suffering, some of them—were
brought out to me, as I had the reputation of being a bit of a laid,
I generally carried a small pocket case of instruments with
me and a bottle of quinine, and in one or two cases I was able to give some
slight relief by simple little surgical operations and doses of the
febrifuge. One case was a horrible one. A poor half-witted old man had
fallen in a fit of epilepsy into a smouldering fire, and his burns were
something fearful to look upon. It was evident he could not recover, as
incipient mortification had already set in, but the patient and silent
resignation to his fate was something most pathetic. Then I had to speak to
the headmen about their crops, discuss the prices of produce with them, and
generally hear all their complaints and profess an interest which it was
really very hard sometimes to feel.
Once more getting on the elephant, I had to cross a stretch
of boggy country, with rice swamp here and there, traverse a part of the old
original sal forest,
which stretched its arms like some great polypus all along the ridges
running down from the main spurs of the Terai into the plain country.
These forests are very sombre and gloomy.
They are inhabited by curious jungle tribes of Banturs and
hillmen, and in their gloomy solitudes, hunting, charcoal-burning, and a
little rude cultivation are the chief occupations of their inhabitants.
I had just emerged from one of these forest-crowned ridges
and was about to cross a pretty large open plain, studded with cultivated
fields and having a hamlet in the middle of it, when I saw a crowd of
villagers rush frantically out from the houses, tightening their cummerbunds and
brandishing their lathees, that
is, their lighting staves, some seemingly armed with clumsy spears and old
swords, yelling and crying at the top of their voices as they pursued a
desperate-looking fugitive whose gaunt, wiry frame boasted no other covering
than a tattered shred of blue cotton cloth round his loins, and who seemed
straining every nerve to elude his infuriated pursuers and reach the
friendly shade, of the sombre forest. I took in the situation at a glance.
This was evidently a gipsy thief, one of a gang of notorious
house-breakers whose depredations for some time past had been the talk of
the villages round about. He belonged to the gipsy caste—Nuths, as
they are called—a wandering, predatory tribe of which had been camped in the
forest for some time.
They had actually paid a nocturnal visit to my factory, and.
had stolen various things from the servants' huts. They had broken into the
house of a neighbouring village-banker, and had in several cases succeeded
in stealing jewellery from the persons of women, whorn they had waylaid and
maltreated as they were returning from the village bazaars.
They were a lawless and desperate set; and telling the mahout—as
I had evidently not yet been observed by either the fugitive or his
pursuers—to draw back within the shade of the wood again, we directed our
course so as to intercept the fugitive, and if possible succeed in capturing
him, as it was important that the gang should be broken up.
It was unfortunate that I was on the elephant. Had I been on
horseback, my task would have been easier.
Two of my peons were with me, accompanying me on foot, and my
old bearer was with me on the guddee.
Telling the mahout to
be ready with the elephant, we alighted, and creeping cautiously forward
under cover, arranged ourselves in ambush to intercept our intended prize.
We had however counted without our host. We were not the only interested
beholders. Scarcely had we taken our places —the wretched man being now near
us—so near, in fact, that through the bushes we could see his set teeth and
gleaming eyes, and his wiry, swarthy frame strained to the fullest nervous
tension. He was making straight for us, and would in a few moments have run
into our ambush; when, with a shrill scream close beside us, which made us
start as if we were the guilty parties and not he, a bevy of shrieking
harpies, with dishevelled hair, bare bosoms, long skinny lingers clawing the
air wildly, and with discordant clamour, came rushing at us from the rear
and surrounded us.
These were the Nuthnees, or
female gipsies, the members doubtless of the pursued man's harem.
One of them had a sickly babe in her arms, and casting off
every shred of apparel as they screamed at us, they tried to distract our
attention from the desperate fugitive, and the situation was, for me at all
events, a very unpleasant one. They came tearing around me like so many
I was like Macbeth with the three witches, only more so.
They shook their skinny fingers in my face, dancing around
me, trying to take hold of me, and it was only by my promptitude of action
in laying about me most lustily with my riding whip that I was able to keep
them at arm's-length. I learned afterwards that this brazen conduct was a
common dodge of these gipsy women; but it was my first experience of their
tactics, and I mentally wished it might be my last.
Wandeping gipsv thieves.
The pursued man was quick to avail himself of this sudden
diversion in his favour.
He doubled like a hare, twisted like an eel through the first
few villagers who were now close upon him, eluded with catlike quickness the
blows that were aimed at him, and with surprising agility made straight for
the thickest part of the undergrowth that skirted the forest.
I am ashamed to confess that for the first time in my life,
my blood being up and my hunting instincts being aroused, I struck a woman.
The leader of the harridans, a particularly repulsive-looking
object, tried to throw herself in my way and encircle me in her loathsome
embrace. What I said I am afraid was not exactly a prayer, but hitting her
straight between the eyes, I sent her flying, and away I went after the
retreating form of the thief as hard as I could lay legs to ground. The poor
hunted wretch was now much distressed, for during the scullle in the village
he had received a crack on the sconce, from which the blood was flowing, and
his gait was now unsteady, and his quick breath came in short spasmodic
The villagers had evidently overshot their quarry, and so far
as I could see, he and I were alone. I was gaining upon him, and was almost
within reach of him with my hunting whip, when he doubled round the bole of
a thick sal tree,
and before I could stop, he had again put some distance between us.
I was determined, however, not to be balked, and being in
pretty good wind myself, I made after him again.
This time his good fortune seemed to desert him, for catching
his foot heavily in some trailing jungle, plant, he fell prone to the earth,
and in a minute I bestrode his recumbent figure.
I had a strong silk sash as a cummerbund, which
I hastily unwound, and was about to pinion him, when the women again made
their appearance on the scene. There were three of them. The old hag had
The one with the babe in her arms was a plump, matronly body;
the other two were young and exceedingly pretty-looking.
Indeed, many of these gipsy women are noted for their great
physical beauty, but they are as fierce and treacherous as tigers. Their
natures are savage and cruel, and the life they lead of continuous theft and
depredation, does not tend to make them any the more gentle and pacific.
The rough-and-ready method 1 had adopted in dealing with the
old hag had evidently shown them that I was not to be dissuaded from my
purpose by the usual way they adopted of flinging away their garments
already referred to. One of the younger women implored me in the most moving
language she could command, to have mercy—dohai!!—on
not to take away her bread-winner, piteously appealing to me to think of her
and her children.
They could see no sign of relenting about me. The man lay
breathing and panting heavily; the cries of the advancing villagers
I fancied a quick glance of intelligence passed between the
man and the matronly woman with the babe.
He seemed to be getting his wind and nerving himself for a
The woman sprang forward now, and with excited gestures and
screaming volubility began to heap imprecations on my head. She poured forth
a torrent of galee—abuse—on
my devoted head, and on the heads of all my relatives down to the
twenty-seventh generation. Seeing me still relentless— for I was now
beginning to pinion the man with my sash— she seized her child by the two
arms, swung it wildly around her head, the hapless infant wailing out a
pitiable cry, and then, with all the fury of a madwoman, she struck its
little limbs against a tree, bruising its poor little feet, and making my
very heart stop beating with the horror of my indignation. I could not help
the impulse, but forgetful of all else, 1 rushed forward to save the.
infant, when, with a demoniacal yell of exultation she flung it at me, and,
to save it from falling, I caught it in my arms.
She turned to flee, and I pursued, encumbered with the
infant; and not being altogether what you might call a trained nurse, I
found it no easy task to capture such a fleet forest Hebe as she proved
herself to be. And then all of a sudden came the mortifying reflection that
she had completely outwitted me, and that this last desperate episode had
been a ruse to enable her husband to escape.
Turning to look, I found this was really the case.
I need not pile up further details. Suffice it to say the
rascal escaped. All that was left—for the woman got away too—was the poor
On both his little heels were ghastly ragged wounds, where
the savage mother had dashed the little creature against the tree.
The chaukeydar of the village, who now came up, took charge
of the poor little thing, but it did not live long.
The gipsies shifted their camp and left the neighbourhood;
and I subsequently found, on comparing notes with my friend S-, the Soopole
magistrate, to whom I related the adventure, that this was not at all an
uncommon dodge of these gipsy women when any of the males of the tribe were
hard pressed, as had been the case on this occasion.
This is a bare, unvarnished recital, and such a narrative may
do more to give my readers an idea of the savagery and cruelty of paganism
than many a long sermon.
This, then, is item number four.
The next experience was destined to be one of those sharp,
sudden, and significant contrasts which are peculiarly characteristic of
India—painful in their suggestiveness, startling in their suddenness, and
calculated to make even the most thoughtless think and the most critical and
unsympathetic hold their peace, when they begin to ponder over the problem
of British government in India.
At the moment of which I am treating, grim famine was
stalking over the land, thousands of the peasantry were literally starving.
And yet such is the strange, incomprehensible nature of the ostentatious
Oriental, I was about to witness a scene of lavish extravagance and riotous
It was now past midday, and little hope remained of my
getting to Soopole in time for dinner. But the day's adventures were not yet
The story of the excited and angry villagers was much as I
had surmised. The thief had been surprised in the act of stealing some brass
utensils from the courtyard of one of the houses. One of the village women
raised the hue and cry, and had been struck down by the robber, and then
followed a fierce scuffle, and the incidents I have just described.
It was now long past tiffin time,
and these frequent delays on the road had caused me to miss my dale, where
refreshments awaited me. And so, after all the excitement and exertion,
there was little wonder that I felt most un-romantically hungry.
head man, gave me very welcome intelligence, then, when he informed me that
there was a bhoj being
celebrated in the neighbouring village, and if I would submit myself to his
guidance, he would feel honoured at being permitted to show me the way.
A bhoj? you
ask. "What is that?
"Well, shortly speaking, a bhoj is
simply a feast. The peculiar signification of the term over an ordinary
feast is, that at a bhoj the
provision is so ample that you are expected to eat to repletion. A bhoj is
generally the outcome of the ostentation of some opulent villager, who
desires to stand well with the Bralimins, dazzle the susceptibilities of his
humbler neighbours, and excite the envy of those who are of his own
standing. Sometimes the bhaj is
given to the Brahmins in fulfilment of a vow, or to propitiate a deity, or
to ensure good fortune in some undertaking, or to show gratitude for the
birth of a son and heir, or recovery from a sickness, or the happy
termination of a speculation, or the return from an auspicious undertaking,
and so on.
The present bhoj, as
I learned, was being given by a wealthy merchant and village banker, in
fulfilment of a vow of gratitude consequent on the birth of a son and heir.
To be strictly correct, the giver of the feast was a notorious usurer, and
was reputed to have made mints of money out of hoarded grain.
Taking our way, then, through the forest in company with
several of my leading ryots, we
were not long in emerging upon a most beautifully situated collection of
neat thatched houses, with a small temple in one corner of the hamlet, and a
deep mossy well in the centre of a great courtyard or, more properly
speaking, market-place, which was shaded by several wide-spreading fig
trees. Round the trees were rude earthen altars or sylvan shrines; quaint
figures of gods and goddesses in rudely shaped pottery were perceptible in
groups on every platform; and daubs of red and white pigments splashed
around, with withered flowers and faded tinsel ornaments, bespoke something
of the local sanctity of the place. It was evident at a glance that the
village was en
inhabitants were clad in clean raiment. The women peeped at us in dozens
from every little enclosure. The children looked oily, sleek, and contented,
and ran about in swarms. There were certainly no indications of famine here.
Numerous groups of what Sydney Smith would have called
"oleaginous and saponaceous" Brahmins were collected all around the circle;
and the giver of the feast, surrounded by adulatory friends, beamed
complacently from under the shade of a goodly caparisoned shaiaiana,
Hearing the clank of my elephant, and being doubtless
apprised of my coming by the running footmen who accompanied our party,
there was an immediate commotion in the circle on my advent.
The fat and jolly old banker came waddling forward to meet
me, with many a profound salaam, and gave me. a truly Oriental and
hospitable welcome to his village.
The Brahmins vied with each other in the flowery rhetoric of
their compliments and the obsequiousness of their genuflexions.
The children, clinging to the skirts of the parental
garments, gazed up wonderingly with their beautiful round brown eyes at the
unwonted appearance of a white man in the midst of their quiet rural
surroundings. My elephant, descrying behind the shade of some friendly trees
several of his own genus, piped out a shrill query in elephant language as
to what was the likelihood of his being
allowed to participate in the bhoj, and
thus evoked a shrill chorus of elepliantic responses, which caused the
village cattle to low, the Brahmins' ponies to snort and neigh, the ragged
and mangy curs to howl and yelp, and the tethered goats in the various
enclosures to bleat; and all this medley of sound, with the din and chatter
of the excited and festive villagers, and the flood of bright colours from
the gay visitors and the many rich Oriental surroundings, formed such a
picture as could only be seen in India; and which, if painted by the magic
brush of some gifted artist, would surely be looked upon by our staid,
sober, stay-at-home, and—shall I say it?—rather unbelieving and
unimaginative mediocrities, as something altogether unnatural and
At the back of the village, two great trenches at right
angles to each other had been dug, not unlike, what one seas when he may
happen to visit a great military camp, and passing the front line of tents,
finds his way to the rear, where the regimental cooking may happen to be
the trenches, large quantities of glowing logs and redly burning charcoal
were giving out a fierce heat. Great chatties of
rice were steaming and bubbling with that delightful sound always suggestive
of pleasant cookery.
Great metal dekchees, on
which the lids were blobbing and dancing as the savoury steam forced them
up, and escaped in grateful little jets, which roused one's gastronomic
perceptions to a most acute pitch of anticipation, were the cynosure of the
observant eyes of a mob of hungry, expectant, nondescript beggars and
cultivators and charcoal-burners and denizens of the forest generally, who
had been attracted by the rumour of the bhoj, and
who looked forward to having a regular jollification from the debris of
the feast, after the invited guests had first partaken. Behind these, in
true Oriental fashion, were squatted numbers of the ladies of their
respective harems and their hungry progeny; and the eager glare in their
eyes, and the expectant attitude of the poor emaciated bodies, with the
wistful, hungry look which one gets accustomed to see in the poor districts
in India, was quite sufficient to tell a sad tale of want, hunger, poverty
and wretchedness, approaching even to the verge of starvation, mutely
suggestive of the straits to winch these poor creatures had been reduced by
a succession of dry [and unpropitious seasons.
However, the preparations for the bhoj were
In the dekchees, kid's
flesh was simmering, vegetable curries and fish curries were approaching
that delicious golden stage when their aroma invades every avenue of sense,
and there was a general, subtle, indescribable something, suggestive of
feasting, pervading the whole atmosphere, which accentuated my hunger and
still further whetted my already sharp-set appetite.
The giver of the feast was evidently for the nonce no
niggard. There must have been fully three-score Brahmins, and as many more
invited guests who were about to participate in Ins bounty, and the poor
people who had been attracted by the rumour of the feast must have numbered
two or three hundred.
As I alighted from my elephant, I was met by my smiling host,
who put a salamee of
two rupees into my outstretched hand in token of his feudal submission.
This I transferred to my mahout.
I was then conducted to a seat under the shamiana, and
presently, after being sprinkled with attar of roses, a few spices were
served up on a curiously carved metal tray, and then the guests began to
seat themselves around, in groups and companies, beneath the shamiana.
At these feasts, the cooking is invariably done by Brahmins,
as of course a Rajpoot, or
a high-caste writer, or any respectable high-caste man, would be in danger
of losing caste if he partook of food which had been prepared, or even
touched, by a man lower in caste than himself.
But a Brahmin being the highest caste of all, it would be of
course no derogation for any one to eat food prepared by him.
Indeed this forms one of the great sources of revenue by
which the poorer Brahmins manage to eke out a tolerably comfortable
existence. They generally have lands which they and their servants
cultivate, but the amount of little perquisites which fall to their lot in
the course of a year from festivities and social observances of this kind is
The. food being now about cooked, two or three brawny
attendants, nude to the waist, but with the sacred thread over their
shoulders denoting their sacerdotal caste, came forward, each bearing on his
shoulder a pile of freshly-gathered, sweet, clean and crisp leaves of the
great floating water-lily. These leaves form a dense umbelliferous mass over
the surface of the tanks and lagoons which lie like jewels embossed in every
nook and angle of the forest country where there is a depression.
The leaves are gathered by the mullahs, or
fishermen caste, and are hawked around the villages whenever any feast of
this sort is going on. The leaf itself is about the size of a very large
dinner plate, and as it has a little depression at the point of junction
with the stem, it forms in itself quite a natural and certainly graceful
To each seated visitor one or two of these leaves were now
distributed, and then the steaming pots of rice, each grain beautifully
plump and pearly, and separated from its neighbour, were brought up, and handfuls—not
spoonfuls, but handfuls—were ladled out with pleasing impartiality to every
squatting and expectant guest.
Behind the rice distributors came others apportioning the
goats' flesh and the curries.
On every leaf a little pile of pearly rice was flanked by a.
steaming mess of currv, and a little mound of smoking meat or fish.
came a distribution of various masalahs and achar —that
is, chutaees, condiments,
But not content with this promiscuous mixture, your
gastronomic ideas would have received a rude shock had you seen what next
was added to the miscellaneous provision.
"What was that, think you?
more nor less than a good round handful of jagree, or
very coarse native sugar. But this was not all.
It was going to be a rare bhoj, and
no mistake. For now, in the middle of the leaf, where the stalk had been cut
off as I have described, one more addition was made by another attendant who
flopped down as the crowning chef
dripping handful of rich, luscious, clotted cream, or curdled milk, which is
looked upon as a great delicacy by the natives, and goes by the name of dahee or dhyre.
But these were only the lighter parts of the feast, what a
Scotchman would call the kickshaws. These were only-intended to be the
toothsome accompaniments to the more solid viand which was next served out.
This took the form of enormous barley meal and flour chupattees.
leathery these latter, it must be confessed, but savoury withal, as they had
been well fried in a plentiful allowance of boiling ghee or clarified
Shade of Epicurus! can you fancy the repast? And yet it would
have done your heart good to have seen the zest with which the heterogeneous
mass of comestibles was consumed, and the celerity with which it
The capacity of some of the guests seemed to be infinite.
The famous feats of the porridge-eating Cornishnan, Jack the
Giant Killer, would have been completely put in the shade by the
performances of some of the participants at this famous bhoj.
Several greedy fellows I noticed, not content with stuffing
themselves till they emulated, nay exceeded, the performances of the most
absorbent boa-constrictor in the neighbouring forest, dexterously
transferred several chupattecs from
the hands of the hospitable dispensers, and succeeded, as they thought
unseen, in secreting these beneath that portion of their anatomy which was
nearest the ground.
One would have thought they intended, like an old hen, to
brood over their chupattees and
hatch out a new lot.
But the cunning rascals were intent on providing for the
inevitable time when hunger would again reassert itself.
So quickly watching for an opportunity when they thought no
one was looking, they slipped the chupattees out
from beneath them, and secreted them in the folds of their flowing robes
behind their backs.
And so it is that human nature asserts itself much in the
same way all the world over, whether it be a Sunday-school feast in Great
Britain or a bhoj in
Pagan Hindostan. Next came a distribution of quantities of mittai or
sweetmeats, after which pan
is, prepared betel-nut, cardamoms and other spices were handed round. All
this terrific gorging had been going on to the accompaniment of the
deafening brattling and clanging of several tom-tom players,
hom-playing demons, and other musicians (?), whose combined efforts formed a
pandemonium of sound which might have driven Apollyon himself crazy. Having,
however, satisfied my hunger, although I certainly did not partake of the
have described, I did not wait for the hungry onslaught of the poor
half-starved, expectant outsiders, but as I was anxious to get into Soopole
before nightfall, I made my salaam to
my hospitable and delighted entertainer, and starting once more on my so
often interrupted journey, made up for lost time by hurrying on across
country, and I need not weary the reader by more minutely recounting the
rest of the adventures which befell me on this memorable day of crowded
Suffice it to say, that after ploughing my way through dense
jungle tracts, and floundering through many a treacherous quagmire, I
arrived, weary and sore from the rough jolting of this prolonged journey,
safely at Soopole, where I received a hearty welcome from the deputy
magistrate and his dear little wife, and after a bath, some supper, and a
good hot whisky toddy, and a humorous narration of the day's incidents, I
was soon safely asleep in bed.