(19) Reasons for retaining a number of servants, religious scruples [[93-97]]
[] The number of servants and the amount of wages, forming
an item in domestic economy, cannot fail to attract the attention not
of persons proceeding to India, but of their parents and friends, who
express much surprise at the apparent extravagance of the young
in this particular. Such notions of improper indulgence in retinue,
perfectly natural, as resulting from long habits, and the little
felt in Europe for keeping many servants, even in large families, by no
means find a sanction when transplanted beyond the narrow limits of our
own island. In many parts of Europe, custom has rendered permanent
practices which no doubt had their origin in the purest motives, and
not, in the first instance, appear likely to serve as the basis of
excesses and encroachments.
The multiplicity of menials employed in the houses of European gentlemen in Bengal, results from the tenets of religion, especially among the Hindoos; a cause by no means likely to be soon removed. Yet what may be effected by a relaxation of their present rigid principles, and the further extension of our customs, cannot be foretold.
Of the religious tenets and institutions both of the Moossulmans and of the Hindoos, little need be said in this place. The division of the latter into sects, called by us casts, renders the occupations of all perfectly distinct. Thus a necessity exists of hiring such of each cast as can attend to those duties they undertake, without being subject to the animadversions of their priesthood, or to those penalties attendant upon even the most trifling deviation from the prescribed path. The climate, too, arbitrarily [] imposes the necessity for retaining some classes of servants unknown in England; or at least, supposed to be exclusively attached to the convenience of ladies, and sick persons.
When all matters are considered, it will be found that the host of domestics appertaining to the establishment of a gentleman in Bengal proves, in the aggregate, little if at all more expensive than the ordinary number retained by families of respectability in most parts of England. What with wages, liveries, lodging, board, washing, waste, negligence, and pilfering, we probably shall find the one man-servant and the two maids fully a match, in point of expense, with the whole body of those in the pay of one of our countrymen abroad.
A gentleman in Europe can never well guess the ultimate amount of his disbursements, where his domestics are concerned either in the appropriation, or in the expenditure. In India, the uttermost farthing is known; each servant receiving a certain sum monthly, for which he is in attendance during the whole day, provides his own clothes and victuals, and pays for whatever cabin he may build or occupy. As to purloining victuals, there is little danger; for with the exception of some of the lower casts, which are held in a state of utter abomination, no native of India, either Moossulman or Hindoo, will so much as touch those viands of which an European has partaken; or which have even been served up to his table.
This must be understood as speaking generally, and without any reference to those few deviations which have occasionally been discovered; for certainly there have been instances of servants, particularly Mahomedans, who so far trespassed against the doctrines of their religion, as in secret, absolutely to eat of ham, and other [] viands. Such anomalies must be abstracted from the main position -- which is well known, by all who have resided in India, to be perfectly correct; though many have suspected that their stocks of liquors have been occasionally subjected to depredations by menial thieves, or tiplers, without being able to substantiate this charge on such rather rare occurrences.
However one cast may be below the other in a religious point of view, yet they strictly regard the preservation of that conspicuous distinction laid down by their sacred code. Thus, though they may worship the same deities, under the same forms, and with the same ceremonies, yet will they not allow of participation at meals; nor even of contact at such times. The stranger will, no doubt, on his arrival, see with surprise during the evenings, about sunset, each individual, or perhaps here and there two or three, if of the same cast, squatting on the bare ground, within a small space levelled for the purpose, of which the limits are marked out by the line of dust, or rubbish, moved from the centre towards the exterior.
In such an area, each man or woman cooks, and afterwards eats, the principal meal of the day. In fair weather, these areas are made under the canopy of heaven; but during the rainy season, and perhaps in winter, they are made within the huts of the persons respectively; and by the Hindoos at least, are in general neatly plastered over with cow-dung, which lays the dust, and is, moreover, considered as a sacred compost.
So extremely scrupulous are the natives in the preparation of their victuals, and their consumption, that if any person not of the very same cast (with the reservation of the brahmans, or priests) should touch their bodies or their clothes, or any one article within the area, or even the surface of the area itself, the whole meal, together [] with any earthen-ware standing within the circumvallation (if it may be so called), would be instantly thrown away, as being polluted.
Nay, any portion in the mouth must be ejected; nor, till the party had performed an ablution, could he attempt to resume his culinary labours, or join in society with his compeers. No Moossulman or Hindoo will drink water out of any vessel touched, while in a state of repletion, by a person of inferior cast, or by an European. Earthen-ware of every kind, though new or empty, becomes defiled by such contact, so as to be utterly useless to the proprietor.
Knowing these things, it must be both cruel and impolitic to trespass on a prejudice in itself perfectly innocent, and by no means interfering with the rights, or the convenience, of others. It is true, the patient Hindoo, even while suffering under privations from the destruction, or at least the disqualification, of his meal, will rarely proceed to extremity against any European who may occasion such a loss and inconvenience. Under a supposition of the trespasser's ignorance, he rather in his mind finds an excuse for, and pardons, what he mildly terms the accident.
But let a native offend in a similar manner, and a war of words exhibits the irritation of the Hindoo's mind. Nor would he be passive should one of his countrymen step over him while asleep; that being considered as not only indelicate, but productive of serious mischiefs: inducing the visitations of evil spirits, inflicting disease and, at no very remote period, death.
This strange infatuation appears perfectly ridiculous in any civilized being, but especially among a people who are all predestinarians. The European should be careful not to stride over any of his domestics who may occasionally lay themselves down in the veranda, &c., of his house: such an act on the part of an unclean [] master, being considered as doubly mischievous; for all those who are without the pale of their peculiar creed are deemed impure./1/
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/1/ I beg leave here to refer the reader to Dialogues English and Hindoostanee, designed "to promote the colloquial intercourse of Europeans with the natives of India, immediately on their arrival in Hindoostan." These Dialogues I shall quote more largely, as they are not likely to be republished in their present form.-- See *Appendix No. II*.