(22) Moonshee, Jummadar, Chob-dar, Soonta-burdar, Khansaman, Sirkar, Kranee [[100-112]]
[] The moonshee, or linguist, is ordinarily a teacher of some language, particularly the Persian and Hinduwee, though numbers are employed only as interpreters, or scribes. Learning is their sole pursuit; and, so far as that can be attained in a country where little is understood [] of philosophy and mathematics, some of them make considerable advances. But in general, it will be found that a few volumes of tales, the lives of great men who have either invaded or ruled the empire, some moral tracts, and the Koran (for moonshees are Moossulmans), constitute the acquirements of this very haughty class of servants.
A moonshee is never so well pleased, as when the payment of the domestic establishment is confided to his charge. Here he is sure to create an influence very injurious to his employer's interests: the whole tribe of menials, considering him to have full command of the whole concern, and viewing their master as a mere cypher, dread the moonshee's authority, and crouch before him in the most submissive manner.
The baniayn rarely receives wages, or any immediate remuneration for his services; he knows full well that no money can pass the files on his fingers without leaving some dust. The darogah is sometimes paid by [per]centage on the quantity of goods he transmits, or on the amount of his account; but the moonshee is ever in the receipt of wages, which vary according to his own talents and reputation, or to the rank of his employer. Perhaps a few may be found who receive more, but two gold mohurs (equal to four guineas) per month may be taken as rather a liberal than an ordinary rate. Some receive no more than eight or ten rupees; but whatever the learning of such men may amount to, their conduct is generally influenced by motives wide from purity.
Many of this class were formerly seen attached to those young officers and civil servants who found an easy mode of gratifying their ostentation by a display of study which they never realized, and who employed these pretended tutors in all the drudgery of expenditure; not forgetting those meaner [] offices which, while they disgraced themselves, levelled all distinction between the man of letters and the common pander.
The private habits of moonshees, in general, by no means correspond with the respectability of their profession. Attending their employers only at stated hours, and the residue of their time being wholly unoccupied, it is not surprising that with liberal salaries, they should rather court pleasure than shun it. Hence, with very few exceptions, we find them debauched and unhealthy.
The jummadars are considered as the most confidential servants of a person of distinction, and through them the dispatches, and consultations of the various members of the council, are usually conveyed. Some are retained merely to superintend buildings and commercial operations: but such cannot be classed, strictly speaking, with those who are merely state servants, though the wages of each may be nearly on a par. The jummadar bears no insignia of office, but generally imitates the appearance of a moonshee of a respectable class. He may, however, be often distinguished by the ornamental dagger worn in his cummer-band, or waist-cloth: whereas the moonshee never wears any weapon whatever.
The chob-dar, or silver-pole bearer, is retained only by persons of consequence; usually two are employed, and even four, in the retinue of very exalted characters. The pole (or chob) is about four feet and a half in length, tapering gradually from the metal ferule at the base, to the top, which is about four inches in diameter, and generally embossed with some figure, such as a tiger's head, &c.; while the rest, for the whole length, is of some pattern, such as volutes, scales, flowers, &c. The pole consists of a staff, about three quarters of an inch in diameter, spreading towards the top, so as to assimilate [] to the form of the exterior case. This is of solid wrought silver, often weighing 150 rupees or more, into which, the staff being placed centrically, melted rosin is poured to fill up the intermediate space; thereby rendering the whole sufficiently substantial, without adding too much to the weight.
The chob-dar is versed in all the ceremonies of court etiquette. He stands at the inner door of the audience chamber, announcing the approach of visitors, and conducting them to the presence. The chob being in itself of some value, and the office frequently of considerable trust, it is usual for chob-dars to give the security of creditable persons who vouch for their good conduct. Their average wages are from eight to twelve rupees. They attend early in the morning, and besides announcing visitors, run before the palanquin; or, if there be no jummadar, by the side, to receive orders. They likewise carry messages or letters, on formal occasions, especially to superiors.
On these occasions, the rank of the servant bearing a message or letter, implies the degree of respect which the master designs to express. So well is this understood, that the precursors of a great man always arrange themselves on this principle of gradation. The hurkarus and peons are the foremost; next the soonta-burdars, then the chob-dars, and, lastly, the jummadar, who runs by the side of the palanquin, unless when occasionally replaced by a chob-dar, and thus throughout. In India, the retinue always precede the employer; a custom little suited to the climate, as appears by the clouds of dust which annoy the person seated in the palanquin.
In the dresses of the jummadar and the chob-dars there is no characteristic difference, though the former usually make their jammas, or robes, of white calico; [] unless where coloured broad-cloth is given them for liveries; which, however, is not usual; and they consider white as more dignified, nor are they partial to coloured turbans, or waistbands.
The soonta-burdar bears a baton about thirty inches long, generally curved at the lop, so as to resemble an ordinary bludgeon. These batons are made of the same materials as the chob, or pole; but, while the latter are borne, when the bearers are proceeding with a palanquin, by a suitable balance near their centres, like trailed arms, the former are held by their lower extremities; which, since they are never rested on the ground, as the chobs are, require no ferules; the crooked end of the soonta being carried over the shoulder.
Soonta-burdars are frequently employed by persons in a second or third rate of office or opulence, where no jummadar or chob-dar is kept. The pay of these servants varies from six to ten rupees monthly: the dress differs from that of the superior class; being generally confined to a much shorter jamma, reaching only to the knees, or just below them, and they have less objection to coloured turbans, &c.
The khansaman may be classed with the house-steward and butler; for in him both offices unite; and in his dress, he generally imitates the jummadar, or chob-dar. Those who have rarely seen a table set out in India, may wonder at the elegance and perfection displayed; especially when it is considered that those concerned in the preparation of the viands would on no account taste them during the course of preparation, any more than when returned from the table.
The wages of the khansaman are supposed to correspond with his talents and the rank of his employer; though in a few instances, epicures of very moderate income have retained khansamans [] at very exorbitant rates. From twelve to fifteen rupees per month, may be taken for a common standard; from fifteen to twenty, in families of rank or opulence; and from twenty to forty among the first circle. A few cases might be adduced where not less than a hundred rupees have been given; a sum corresponding with £150. per annum of British currency.
The sirkar is a servant whose whole study is to handle money, whether receivable or payable; to confuse accounts, when adverse to his views; or to render them most expressively intelligible, when suitable to his purpose. These are pretty nearly the same as the Madras debashes. As peons and hurkarus rise to be chob-dars and jummadars, and as khidmutgars succeed to the appointment of khansaman, so may sirkars in time become baniayns, dewans, darogahs, gomastahs, &c. Many of them even set up as shroffs, or bankers, and establish a very extensive credit. There are sirkars of all ages, from twelve, to sixty or seventy.
Nothing can more forcibly expose the characteristic traits of sirkars, than their usual tender of services to young men, under the declaration that they seek no pay or remuneration in any form, beyond the pleasure of laying out their master's money to the best advantage. It should be noticed that on account of the immense variety of coins current in India, it is customary, when receiving a large sum, to employ an examiner, called a podar; who, having acquired an accurate skill in the valuation of these coins, at once decides upon the correctness of a payment.
The precision, quickness, and touch of these persons are beyond description. It is said that many of them can, even in the dark, distinguish between several kinds of money, whose size and weight are nearly similar. Besides, even coins of the [] same value, and from the same mint, differ greatly in both particulars; some being broad and flat, like a shilling, though not defaced; while others are more dumpy, and, though of purer metal, not so ponderous.
Many of the sirkars, especially of late years, unite the office of podar with their own, This, it might be supposed, would enable them to secure their employer from loss, but it is rather made the means of injuring both his pocket and his credit, by passing inferior money at an unjust value into his chest, and issuing it at a less rate, if to a native colleague; but, if to an European, then at a higher value; the sirkars of each joining in the device: when circumstances fit, this operation is reversed. Here it may be objected -- "If the master knew the rate at which the money was paid to him, how happens it that after entering it in his books, he allows it to be paid away at a different, or at least at a lower, rate than that at which it was received?"
This query, though sufficient to stagger any other person, would not prove in the smallest degree difficult of solution to a sirkar. He immediately tells his master that the batta, i.e. the exchange, is altered, and, in saying this, he may have truth on his side, from the fluctuations that take place in all coins, whether gold, silver, or copper; and which are so frequent that no general rules can apply for any given long period. This fluctuation in the price of money is managed by the shroffs, or native bankers; who invariably, except on particular holidays, meet towards midnight, compare accounts, and settle the value of money for the succeeding day.
Notice is then privately circulated; and throughout the great town of Calcutta, covering perhaps three thousand acres, and well peopled, the whole of the parties concerned, nay, even the ordinary retail shopkeepers, are apprized of the [] alteration. Sometimes the exchange is allowed to remain at the same rate for a few days in succession: this rarely takes place, except when a particular currency, say silver, is to be bought up at a low rate, to be sold again when the rate has been raised for that purpose. Soon as either purpose is accomplished, the exchange alters by the same invisible means.
The number of pice in a rupee constitutes its value; as the number of rupees and annas do that of a gold mohur; which, if sicca, from the Calcutta mint, ought invariably to pass at sixteen rupees. But the regulations of government have too often been openly and daringly disobeyed. Thus at one time the whole of the silver currency disappeared; the shroffs and sirkars had bought it up, so that persons in business were induced to offer premiums for silver; without which mercantile concerns could not proceed. It is, indeed, well known that for several months, the troops at the presidency were paid in gold, issued to them at par; but which, owing to the infamous combinations above described, would not pass in any part of the market, unless a deduction of one-eighth was allowed. Sirkars contrive to defraud all parties with whom their masters have concerns; thereby disgracing them on many occasions, especially in payment of card-debts, which are soon distinguished by this Argus race.
Besides the advantages thus made, the sirkars derive a very considerable emolument from purchases of every description made in the markets. Whenever an European, even in person, buys goods of a native, his servants have, from time immemorial, a claim on the vendor of half an anna in every rupee the latter receives. This, which is called dustooree, or a customary gift, being a thirty-second of the disbursement, amounts to no less that 3 1/8 per cent: it may therefore be imagined what immense [] sums these sirkars must gain, when serving gentlemen who have large establishments: for even from the very domestics does the sirkar claim the above gratuity, when paying their wages.
Military persons have little occasion for such servants; therefore, unless in eligible circumstances, and of a very liberal disposition, a sirkar will not think it worth his while to serve an officer on a small salary; but it is quite different with a young civilian. Those sirkars who are employed by merchants or manufacturers derive the advantages attendant on the foregoing transactions, in a less degree than when serving other individuals; but they gradually acquire large property, and are often placed in situations of great trust; such as darogahs and gomastahs.
In such establishments they are, for the major part, relatives to the baniayn, who assists with his purse on emergency; therefore, though they may feel the necessity of paying attention to their ostensible employer, they pay their court, under the rose, chiefly to the former. The rates of wages are, in this branch, progressive; some receiving a bare livelihood, such as from five to eight rupees monthly; while those of longer standing, or who are more in favour with the baniayn, sometimes receive from fifteen to thirty.
The dress of sirkars is extremely simple: their heads are shaved, excepting one lock, about two inches in diameter at the base, which is held sacred, and tied in a loose bow-knot. The turban is white, of fine muslin, wrapped perhaps fifteen or twenty times round the head, leaving the crown nearly bare, and the lock of hair protruding. Round the waist a piece of cloth is passed, so as to allow freedom of motion; then tucked in, in a peculiar manner, and one skirt, passing between the thighs, is, in like manner, secured behind. Unless in cold weather, the body and [] arms are entirely bare; in moderate seasons, they are covered with a cloth sewed into two breadths, and thrown over the shoulders: a chintz quilt is likewise occasionally worn.
For the convenience of keeping accounts and making payments, one sirkar is allowed by the Company to each battalion of sepoys. It is surprising how these men, whose legal receipts amount at most to only twenty rupees monthly, accumulate property. Much money, indeed, goes through their hands; and as before observed, every finger is a file which takes off a trifle en passant. This class of servants rarely associate with the others, as they form a separate tribe of Hindoos, whose time is devoted to the sole object of making money. They generally read English well enough to know the contents of a bill; but, in giving receipts, usually sign their names in the Bengallee character.
Few of them undertake to write English accounts; but, in their own way, which appears to us prolix, they are extremely regular. The superiors seldom touch a pen, leaving that office to confidential servants, and employing the less expert as collecting clerks. These are eminently punctual, as most young debtors throughout the East must acknowledge. It is a peculiar circumstance, that scarcely an instance has been known of a sirkar absconding with the money entrusted to him: from this, however, the tide waiters [sic] must be exempted, who are by no means scrupulous; though they prefer extracting the money from the novice's pocket, by means of extortion and fraudulent accounts.
Considering him as being at least attached to, if not of the very same species as, the sirkar, I shall give a short description of the podar, of whom mention has already been made. He is not always an attendant at an office, though, in great concerns, his presence is indispensable. [] He either receives from four to ten rupees per month, or is paid by a very small per centage, for whatever money he examines. We often admire the dexterity of our money-tellers; but the podar, who counts by fours (i.e. gundahs), finishes the detail of a thousand in so short a time, as would cause even those to stare with astonishment.
It is only mixed money that is counted, when large sums are passing; most payments are first sorted, when the several kinds of rupees, being made into parcels, are weighed fifty at a time: in this manner, a lac (i.e. 100,000) may be speedily ascertained; each parcel of fifty being kept separate, till a certain number is completed: when the whole are accounted, and removed into bags, to make way for further operations.
Here it may be proper to remark, that no sirkar will take charge of money when his employer keeps the key; nor is it, on the other hand, customary for the sirkar to have the entire charge. So many tricks have been played by changing the coin, that it is now a general rule for every treasure-chest to have two large padlocks, of different construction; the sirkar, or tusseel-dar (cash-keeper), receiving one key, and the master retaining the other. This prevents aggression on either part, but is by no means pleasing to the baniayns, though they affect to be highly satisfied, because a command of specie will often enable them to make very advantageous purchases in Company's paper; but such a precaution inevitably debars their access to the master's cash.
The kranee, or clerk, may be either a native Armenian, a native Portuguese, or a Bengallee; the former not very common; the second more numerous; but the third to be seen everywhere. It is curious to observe how well many of the latter can write, without understanding a word of what is written. They have a steady hand, a [] keen eye, and an admirable readiness in casting up accounts. Those who are habituated to our mode of bookkeeping, consider it greatly superior to their own; but it is not very easy to make them understand it. The multiplicity of fractions, in consequence of the perpetual fluctuation in their currency, accustoms them to the most correct calculations.
The rates of wages vary according to the abilities of individuals. Thus, a clever kranee in a public office, such as the auditor general's, or the paymaster general's, or the assay and mint, receives from forty to a hundred rupees monthly; while in mercantile houses, they rarely receive more than thirty, generally, iindeed, from ten to twenty. Many are glad to serve gratis, merely for the purpose of an introduction to that line of employment; as well as to perfect themselves in book-keeping, and in a proper style of correspondence. The use they make of English words is often highly diverting: they study synonymes very industriously; poring over Johnson's dictionary, and carefully selecting such terms as appear to them least in use; thinking that such must, of course, make finer language.
The dress of a Bengallee kranee is exactly the same as that of a sirkar, of which tribe he may be considered a relative. The Portuguese kranees assume the British dress; but the Armenian invariably retain that of their own country, which is truly becoming. They shave their heads, and wear black velvet bonnets, in form not unlike a mitre. Their vests are of white linen, reaching down to the knees, so as not to conceal the knee-bands of their small-clothes. Their coats, or tunics, are usually of coloured silk, for the most part purple, lilac, crimson, or brown, and flow loosely rather below their vests; the sleeves are loose, and there is no collar. They use also stockings and shoes; and when within doors, lay aside [] their black bonnets, wearing in their stead white skullcaps, round like a small bowl, and often neatly tamboured with coloured silks. They have pockets in their vests, and in their small-clothes: some wear girdles under their tunics ; and some silken sashes.