(31) Durwan, Cahar, insolence of the Ooriya bearers [[164-172]]
[] From the great number of servants sleeping within the bouses at Calcutta, and each dwelling having a separate gateway where a durwan (or porter) constantly attends, as well as owing to the great number of chuokees, or patrol stations every where to be seen, few chuokeedars are employed there, except by merchants who have warehouses full of valuable commodities, or shroffs (bankers) residing in that part of the town inhabited principally by natives. At the baugeechahs, or garden-houses, which generally stand, like our farm-houses, at some distance from other dwellings, chuokeedars are indispensable.
Within the Company's provinces no head-chuokeedars are to be seen; and generally speaking, there is no ostensible person who comes forward to guarantee the safety of goods under charge of a chuokeedar; though, when this most desirable assurance is wanting, the greatest vigilance is sometimes inadequate to the prevention of theft. It is not very easy to defeat the machinations of a most expert banditti, in a country where it is necessary, to prevent suffocation, to throw open every door and window during the night.
A durwan, or porter, has been described as stationed at the gate of entrance into that area (called the compound) within which most houses in Calcutta are situated. [] This servant usually receives from four to five rupees monthly, and generally dresses little better than a cooly. Soon as a palanquin enters the gate, the durwan vociferates lustily that a visitor approaches; when immediately some other servant, such as a peon or hurkaru, runs to enquire the name, &c., which is immediately announced to the master or mistress.
The durwan has a small lodge near the portal, where he is in constant attendance day and night. When the family have fetired to rest, he shuts and secures the gates. It was formerly an invariable rule to close them during meals, till the head servant gave notice that all the plate, &c. were safe. This custom operated, no doubt, as a check upon many who, but for such a restriction, would have purloined some valuable article of a portable description.
The cahar, or palanquin-bearer, is a servant of peculiar utility, in a country where for four months, the intense heat precludes Europeans from taking much exercise. During a similar term, they are prevented by the puddles, in every place not artificially raised and drained at a great expense. Indeed, even in the cold months, the palanquin cannot always be dispensed with, and still less the chattah, or large umbrella.
Many gentlemen who arrive during the winter season find the sun little more than agreeable; they therefore very incautiously dispense with the chattah, and allow themselves to be heated extremely. So many instances have indeed happened, of persons being carried off suddenly in consequence of such exposure, that all who visit India cannot be too earnestly exhorted to be very cautious of placing reliance on strength of constitution: the strongest are in most danger; on them fever seizes firmly, giving little time for the adjustment of their affairs, and still less scope for the exertion of medical skill.
[] A set of bearers varies as to number, according to the situation, occupation, and wealth of the employer. In Calcutta, where there is much visiting, seven at least must be kept, one of whom stays at home to cook victuals for the rest; and as another will probably be the sirdar, or head-bearer, who attends personally when his master is dressing, and generally has some charge of linen, &c., he will not, except on emergency, officiate under the bamboo. Thus only five will be left to carry the palanquin and the umbrella; the bearer of which at times relieves one of the four who carry the vehicle; and they alternately assume his part of the labour.
There are, however, various tribes of bearers, generally provincial, to be found at Calcutta, chiefly those called Ooreeahs, i.e. natives of the province of Orissa, a tract of country lying between the Roopnarian and the northern Sirkars. These are generally called "Balasore-bearers," from the principal town.
It is not easy to describe the influence of this set of menials throughout those parts to which they extend their services; which is rarely more than a few miles around Calcutta. They are in fact a commonwealth, governed by one or more of their gang, and subject to the regulations from time to time established by councils convened in the most imperious manner, by the old sirdars; every trespass against which incurs not only the immediate punishment of ejection from among their society in the town, but absolutely a species of outlawry, even in their own country.
To such a pitch had these bearers carried their audacity, that more than once they withdrew from Calcutta, leaving its inhabitants in the most awkward predicament, till they chose to return, or their insolent demands were satisfied. If any offence be given to one or more, especially [] to a whole set, it is instantly submitted to their superiors, who have on many occasions issued their mandate, interdicting all Ooreeahs from engaging in the offender's service. Where real injury is done, they never fail to carry the complaint before the commissioners of the police, or into the supreme court; the costs being defrayed by a general assessment.
The prudence with which they proceed in the prosecutions is not unworthy of notice, and cannot fail to save much vexation, trouble, and expense. They put the case very fairly before a fictitious tribunal, consisting of sirkars, writers, &c. who, having been employed by gentlemen of the law, have picked up a smattering of that profession, and are perfectly acquainted with the forms attendant upon civil causes. These "base epitomes of legal greatness" possess wonderful shrewdness, and by means of two fictitious advocates of a corresponding description, who, with an acuteness scarcely to be equalled, argue their respective sides of the question, are enabled to decide on the case with strict propriety.
The fact is that this mock court, being instituted for the purpose of preventing any native who chooses to have his cause pleaded before it, from being entangled in that net of perplexity, the supreme court, every endeavour is made to scrutinize the several turns and arguments to which the defendant may resort. Consequently, it is ever the study of the accusing party to strengthen his opponent's side with every subtlety that can be devised. The sages delivered their opinions, as in our courts; [but are] cautious never to decide in favour of a plaintiff, unless the case appears fully established.
It is a well-known fact that with the exception of a few haughty, opinionated individuals, who think that such a resort would degrade them, or perhaps discover that chicanery on which they rely for success, scarcely an [] instance can be found where a native residing in Calcutta has failed to gain his cause against an European. To such a tribunal as above described, the Ooreeahs almost invariably resort; when, if its decision is in their favour, they soon appear before the real court.
It is fortunate for the European inhabitants of Calcutta that within the last thirty years, [many] Patna, Dacca, and other cahars or bearers, have resorted to the presidency, to participate in those services formerly monopolized by the Ooreeahs. The latter, after attempts to intimidate their rivals, and to hinder the teeku or job-bearers, who were formerly, to a man, of the Balasore tribe, from serving, even for the day, those who retained Patna, or other cahars, were in the end obliged to lower their tone, and to conciliate upon all occasions. Though by no means reconciled to the new system, they find their mandates of less force, their influence nearly extinguished, and their numbers considerably decreased; at least; they bear no proportion to the cahars from the country, who now ply in every quarter for teeka (job-work).
Yet the Ooreeahs are certainly, in some respects, excellent servants. They are very careful of furniture, and being generally able-bodied men, are capable, even with fewer numbers, of proceeding great distances. They are, besides, far neater in their persons and in dress; which, however, consists merely of a doty, wrapped round the middle, and tacked in with a wrapper, to throw over them in very inclement weather, but usually folded up and carried over the shoulder. When their heights are unequal, they use a small quilted pad of linen, stuffed with rags or cotton. This suspended from the palanquin pole, or bamboo, and placed between it and the shoulder of the shortest bearer of the two (as they carry in pairs, two [] before, and two behind), serves to bring about an even bearing on each.
The Balasore bearers, or Ooreeahs, preserve but one lock on the top of their heads, like the sirkars and other Hindoos in general. They wear no turban, and paint their faces, arms, throats, and breasts, with sandal-wood and vermilion. Some wear about their necks a few small beads, chiefly of turned wood, and occasionally on either wrist a stout silver ornament of the ring kind, called a bangle, or kurrah, or a pair of tiger's claws set in silver, back-to-back, suspended from their necks by a number of black threads. This is considered as a potent charm against j'haddoo, or witchcraft, and a preventative of various dangerous diseases.
The Ooreeah bearers never wear shoes, and they prefer clothes of an almond colour. Their number in a single set is generally, as before stated, seven: the head bearer, or sirdar, receiving five, or even six rupees monthly; sometimes a mate receives, or is said to receive, five; and the residue about four. Formerly the rates were generally one rupee less for each rank; but "the hay was made while the sun shone," and they did not fail, while in power, to raise their respective wages.
Where there is a lady in the family, three, or perhaps five, more bearers must be added; and a comfortable building must be set apart for these domineering servants, or they will not stay. Nor will they handle a chillumchee (or wash hand-basin), after it has been used; though they will pour water and lay the napkin and the shaving apparatus, and perform a variety of offices formerly supposed to be repugnant to their tenets; but they are less scrupulous since the country cahars have resorted in such numbers to Calcutta, and aided to overthrow that immense edifice of insolence, imposition, and pride whereof, fortunately, [] the foundation was thus destroyed.
The time is not very remote, when the council, as the sirdars vainly [=arrogantly] termed their meetings, used to send their summons to any Ooreeah in an European's service, and in case of refusal or neglect, to mulct the party according to their pleasure. Thus no individual, however attached to his master, or tired of the noxious and tyrannic mandates of the sirdars, dared to disobey. The smallest relaxation in points of forbearance, or in the least tending to augment the duties of the whole class, whether individually or collectively, was certainly followed by the most severe inhibitions, and by fulminations perfectly terrific to those brought up in ignorance and under the complete domination of a persecuting priesthood.
A few instances occurred wherein the masters almost forcibly debarred their servants from obedience to the adjudications of this overbearing usurpation, but it was in vain; the government, perhaps prudently, discouraged every attempt to change "the system"; while the Supreme Court, then newly robed and panting for the exercise of power, whereby to shew their extensive authority, and their sedulous attention to the rights of "an oppressed people," favoured every complaint wherein a native was to be redressed: this was done with the view to annihilate those multifarious extortions and severities, not to say cruelties, under which it was supposed they were groaning. This farce, like other good farces, has had its day.
Where bearers are not constantly wanted, which is a very uncommon case, it is best to hire teeka-bearers. For ordinary excursions, five are usually employed: each receiving daily four annas, or the quarter of a rupee. This mode has advantages and disadvantages; for these job-men cannot always be procured, nor will they come at the hour appointed. Then, again, they must go home to [] their meals; and they are by no means so careful of the palanquin, &c., as regular servants; nor will they attend to a variety of indoor services which may be peremptorily requisite. Besides, should occasions for employing them be numerous, they will prove very expensive: consequently, this mode can suit those only whose incomes are confined, and their ordinary avocations such as lead them no further than they can walk, without danger or great inconvenience, under the shade of a chattah, or umbrella. One sirdar at five, one mate at four and a half, and five bearers at four each, amount only to twenty-nine rupees and a half monthly; whereas five teekas, if employed every day at a rupee and a quarter daily, will amount to thirty-seven and a half. This would be like riding in a hackney-coach all day, when an excellent equipage might be more economically kept.
The Patna, Dacca, and other up-country bearers generally receive less wages than the Ooreeahs; but they must be more numerous in a set; few consisting of less than eight, including the sirdar, who generally remains at home. His usual wages are from four and a half to five rupees, and the rest receive from three to four, monthly. When in their own country, they serve for less wages than when employed elsewhere. Those at Dacca, where provisions are very cheap, seldom have more than two, or two rupees and a half; and they most reluctantly quit that part of the country, even under a very considerable advance of pay. Therefore when a corps marches from the Dacca district, every endeavour is made to procure bearers who are going to the several districts lying in or near the route. This is a great convenience, as it is common for bearers to proceed only to an appointed town, where they leave their employer to himself, to obtain others in their stead.
Thus, in marching from the frontier [] to Lucknow or Cawnpore, it is necessary to obtain a new set of bearers at either of those places, to proceed to Benares. At Benares they will probably engage to go no further than Patna, if proceeding by the river route; or, if by the new road, only to Hazary-Baug, or perhaps to Rogonautpore, or to Bissunpore; where a final exchange must be made for a set that will proceed to Calcutta, Midnapore, &c. Yet this occasions no very serious difficulty ; the occurrence being so common, and the prices so regulated by the ordinary practice, that unless a gentleman has the character of using his servants ill, there is seldom any deficiency of candidates for employment.