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(53) Mats of various sorts, satrinje, cheeks, glass windows, talc as a substitute, purdahs [[260-268]]

[[260]] Throughout Calcutta the doors are panelled, and have generally handsome brass mountings, with mortice locks. The windows are well glazed, and in many instances the rooms laid with superb carpets, either of European, Persian, or Mirzapore manufacture. The two latter are generally made of silk, exhibiting rich patterns, with the most brilliant colours. The floors, or, more properly speaking, the tarrases, are generally covered with a matting made of a species of rush, which possesses considerable firmness and pliancy. This, after being duly cleansed from fibres, &c., is made up into bundles, about a cubit in length and nearly the same in girth; in which state it is [[261]] well soaked.

From these bundles, the mat-makers, who are usually of the Cunjour tribe, weave the mats upon a kind of woof made of twine, but perfectly concealed by the rushes. Some of these mats are plain; while others have various stripes, or chequers. With this manufacture a room of any size may be fitted; the work being either done on the spot, or at the houses of the persons employed. The colour is generally like faded straw; though sometimes are introduced red or black rushes, dyed for the purpose.

To accommodate persons residing in parts where floors cannot be fitted with whole mats, long strips, of about a yard wide and four or five yards long, are sold in almost every great bazar. These require to be sewed side by side, like Scotch carpeting; but, exclusive of that disadvantage, are not so eligible, as they are less carefully made, and in almost every instance manufactured from refuse materials.

In the upper provinces, where the kudjoor (date-tree) abounds, a tolerable kind of matting is made from its leaves. This is not so durable, handsome, or even, as the sort just described; and owing to the coarseness of the materials, is apt to catch the feet of chairs, besides the danger of fire from hookuhs, &c. All these circumstances limit the use of kudjoor mats to very ordinary purposes, or to such rooms as are to be wholly or partially carpeted.

Mats are likewise made, in every part of the country, from green bamboos. These, split into very thin laths of about half an inch or less in width, answer the same purpose as the former. They are, however, very uncomfortable, harbouring great numbers of centipedes; as indeed do the kudjoor mats, but not to the same extent. Mats, if they may be so called, are also made by laying down rattans, and stringing them together with strips of their [[262]] own bark, as is done in making the seerky used in thatching. This sort is very rare, and the few seen in Calcutta were said to have been brought by the Dutch from Malacca, whence great numbers of rattans are yearly imported.

A very beautiful kind of mat is made in some parts of the country, but especially in the south-eastern districts, about Dacca and Luckypore, from a reedy grass. The rind, being pared off very thin, and trimmed till about the eighth of an inch wide, is woven into mats, rarely exceeding seven or eight feet long by about four feet wide. These are peculiarly slippery, whence they are designated seetul-puttee (meaning cool leaves, sheets, breadths, &c.). Their colour resembles that of common horn, and their prices are generally from two to six rupees per piece; according to their fineness, and to the state of the markets.

The principal uses of the seetul-puttee are, to be laid under the lower sheet of a bed, thereby to keep the body cool; which it effects to a great degree, by its remarkably slippery surface. Some pillows for couches are likewise covered with it. It has also been employed in making covers for mahogany tables; to which it is well adapted, on account of its repelling dust. For such use all the joinings should be well taped, and lined with blanket, or with karwah, &c., properly quilted.

Besides the carpets before mentioned, and which are very high priced, there are manufactories of satrinjes at Mirzapore, and in many other parts. These serve all the purposes of carpets, but have no plush; being in that respect very similar to Scotch carpeting, but at the same time very dissimilar in respect to pattern. The satrinje is merely a large coloured sheet, in which, except for about a cubit's breadth all around, the whole is divided into bars, or stripes, usually from two to six inches wide, proportioned to the extent of the fabric.

The principal [[263]] colours in these carpets are a crimson ground, with bars of deep or light red; or blue grounds, with white, yellow, or tawny bars; or green grounds, with deeper or lighter green, or crimson, or orange bars; or any of these, vice versa. The common price of a woollen satrinje may be from twelve annas (3/4 of a rupee) to three rupees per square yard; according to fineness, substance, colour, demand, &c.

Of cotton satrinjes, the price rarely exceeds a rupee, or a rupee and a quarter, for the same extent; these, however, will bear washing admirably. It is no uncommon thing to see a satrinje of full twenty by thirty feet; yet made only on a bamboo roller, round which the work gradually collects, as the threads are crossed by passing the warp-lines alternately over and under the woof-lines, in regular changes.

Cheeks, or screens, to keep out the glare, are made in a similar manner. These simple, yet most comfortable, addenda to Indian habitations, are formed of bamboo wires (if the term may be allowed), from four to six feet in length, and about the thickness of a very large knitting-needle, or, perhaps, of a crow-quill. A thin, clean-worked lath, of the same material, is put at the top and bottom.

Many cheeks are made of bamboo wires, painted either green or reddish brown, but generally the former. These require no particular care, except to keep them separate, as they are dried by laying them upon two rows of bricks, or against a wall, or upon scattered straw, when the weather is calm. When cheeks are intended to represent any pattern, such as birds on branches, or Indian deities, &c., the whole of the wires are laid with their respective ends on two boards, over which two others are placed perfectly parallel, and even, so as to press the ends of the wires, and to prevent their [[264]] being easily displaced.

A pattern, being cut out on paper of the required size, is fastened down upon the wires, and its outline everywhere distinctly marked upon them; after which it is worked in on the former ground, say a green, with brown for branches, a deeper green for the leaves, and red, yellow, &c. for the birds: the whole is then left to dry. When ready for use, the cheek-wallah (or maker) fixes his apparatus close to the top, and taking each wire in succession, fastens it down in its proper place, being guided by two lateral lines, as they are handed to him by an urchin perhaps not more than three or four years of age. In this way the representation is preserved.

The neatest patterned cheeks come from China; but the Bengallee artist is improving, and bids fair to supersede the importation. It is usual to have the whole cheek bound, all around, either with a light cotton tape, of about three or four inches broad, or with red, or blue, karwah. At the top of each cheek, generally, a piece of circular leather is attached, two being sewed together, though on different sides of the wires. To these are sewed cotton cords, usually white, or red and white, or blue and white, about an inch in circumference, and each a full yard in length. Their use is to tie up the cheek, when rolled towards the door-plate, when it is not wanted. Each end of the top lath has similar pieces of leather sewed on, for the cords by which the cheek is to be suspended.

White cheeks are preferred, because they more effectually keep out the glare, and also render the interior less exposed from without: consequently, they contribute most to coolness, and privacy.

Among Europeans of respectability, in any part of Calcutta, it would be scarcely possible to find a house destitute [[265]] of proper doors of panelled wood, or of windows furnished at least with Venetians, if not with glass sashes. Whether for appearance, convenience, or real utility, nothing can equal glass; the use of which is now become so general that almost every bungalow in the upper provinces, unless built merely as a shelter for a few months, is provided with it; some only partially, but a great majority throughout.

Williamson 1810 vol. 2: ((45)) Were it not that this most agreeable improvement were attainable on what may be called very moderate terms, the great number of serious drawbacks it has to encounter would assuredly cause its exportation to the East to be very limited. The principal objections to its use, are, 1stly, the difficulty of getting glass cut to fit the sashes; 2dly, the aptness of even the best seasoned wood to warp, so as to cause the panes to fly; 3dly, the difficulty which frequently exists of getting glass at all; especially of the larger sizes.

As a balance to this, we find, that this brittle ((46)) commodity, after undergoing all the risques attendant upon shipping, and landing, together with all the dangers, of the seas, and much occasional rough usage after being consigned to the up-country trader, can usually be sold at Futty-Ghur, or Lucknow, which are each distant about a thousand miles by water from Calcutta, at the following prices: panes of 8 by 11 inches, at about twenty rupees per coorge (or score); 10 by 14, at about twenty-six rupees; of 12 by 16, at about thirty-two; of 15 by 20, at about forty; of 18 by 26, at about fifty; and of 20 by 30, at about sixty rupees. These prices give little more than cent, percent, upon the wholesale prices of London.

What with the necessity for making those panes and sashes which are exposed to the sun, very firm, as well as from a due attention to economy in so expensive an article, we generally see, in the upper provinces, the panes laid transversely, instead of upright; and only one row of such panes in each frame; the wood-work being made very broad, so as to occupy a large space. The light thus admitted is found fully adequate to every common purpose; the atmosphere being, for full eight months out of the twelve, perfectly clear; and there being rarely any buildings to debar the full enjoyment of that blessing: besides, that great exposure to an unclouded sky, which may in England be deemed highly ((47)) advantageous, would, in India, prove objectionable, by admitting so forcible a glare as must give more uneasiness than pleasure.

When glass cannot be had, or, owing to some monopoly, the price is too high, windows are furnished with plates of talc. This may be largely procured at the several cities, especially towards the frontiers, chiefly at Lucknow, Benares, and Patna, being imported from Thibet, and the countries on the north of the Punjab, or Seik territory, in masses often as large as a quartern loaf. This traffic is principally for the supply of that fine powder used in the Hindoo holiday called hooly, the carnival of that sect.

The masses of talc commonly sell from a rupee and a half, to two rupees per seer (of about two pounds avoir-dupois). The best is of pure pearl colour, with commonly a yellowish, or faint blue, cast. With proper tools, this mineral may be split into very thin leaves, which often present smooth surfaces, but are apt to have little scaly blisters that greatly deteriorate their value. However, a seer of talc that splits well, will sometimes yield a dozen or more panes, of about twelve inches by nine, or ten by ten; according to the form of the lump, which can only be split in the direction of its laminae. These panes, which prove an excellent substitute for glass, are so far diaphanous as to allow ordinary objects to be seen tolerably distinct at about twenty or thirty yards.

If, as occasionally happens, neither glass nor talc can be readily obtained, the best substitutes are light frames, [[266]] panelled or filled up with wax-cloth, neatly nailed on. These not only keep out wind, rain, and dust, but in the cold season, preserve the warmth of rooms, yet admitting sufficient light for ordinary purposes. Another expedient is oiled paper, but this obstructs the sight of what passes abroad. To a person just arrived from Europe, such would appear a most distressing privation; but after passing a few seasons behind tatties, without being able for months together to enjoy the light during the whole day, such recluseness would scarcely be felt.

Williamson 1810 vol. 2: ((51))  ...such recluseness would scarcely be considered worthy of notice : so true it is, that we gradually become habituated to the loss the ordinary enjoyments, of faculties, and even of civil and religious liberty!!! 

Although bungalows have not any ceilings of plaster, they are rendered extremely neat within, by means of a double sheet, made of very coarse cotton cloth called guzzy, of which tents are usually constructed. These sheets, fitted to the several apartments respectively, are bound with strong tape, and have, besides, various tapes forming an union cross of eight limbs or rays, all meeting in the centre. As the cornices commonly project nearly a foot, abundance of space is left for lacing the sheet (called the chandny) to battens, nailed to pegs built in the wall.

These battens, firmly secured all the way round, about an inch above the cornice, admit the sheet to be strained very tight, so as to bag very little, if at all, in the centre. Some whitewash their chandnies, and take so much pains in establishing a firm appearance, as to render them very similar to well-made ceilings. Without this last mode of preparation, music has no effect in a bungalow; indeed, at the best, the most powerful instrument is heard under great disadvantages, owing to the number of apertures, the satrinjes, mats, couch and table covers, &c., all which considerably deaden the tones.

Those who are very particular in whatever relates to their furniture, &c., have their verandas lined like their apartments, to give them a finished appearance; but in [[267]] such exposed situations, the cloths are apt to collect considerable quantities of dust, which is perpetually set in motion by their shaking when under the action of the wind. On this account seerky is a preferable lining for verandas.

When there are no doors of any description, the usual expedient is to provide purdahs, made of karwah, or guzzy, or both, mixed in perpendicular stripes, each eight or ten inches wide. Some, especially those who are stationary, make their purdahs of shalloon, perpet, or very coarse broad-cloth, in the following manner. The cloth is made into two sheets of equal dimensions, say nine feet by six, with strong double tapes, perhaps five or seven in number, inserted crosswise between them.

The whole circumference of the purdah is then sewed very neatly and bound with tapes, coloured like the cloth, and their ends bound by means of leather, covered with the same materials. Between every pair of tapes a small bamboo, very tough, is introduced; or perhaps a stout lath made from a bamboo of the large sort. These sticks or laths serve to keep the cloth stretched out; and when the purdah is suspended, much in the same manner as has been explained for the mounting of a cheek, lie horizontally; thus preventing the wind from blowing in the purdah.

It is a general rule to make a purdah full a foot wider on each side than the doorway it is to conceal; also to carry it a foot above the door-plate, with a part about a foot deep, without any lath at the bottom, so as to trail a little on the ground. The purdahs made of karwah, or other cotton stuff, are generally quilted with cotton, or composed of many folds, or have coarse blankets inlaid between their outer coatings. The last is of the most effectual, neat, and durable constraction; but, at the [[268]] best, purdahs are a very indifferent resource; though often, from necessity, applied to windows.

Their best use is to deaden sounds, and thus they are advantageously suspended outside sleeping; or other retired, apartments; when by closing the doors, privacy and quiet may usually be effected. A purdah generally indicates that the apartments within that entrance, are exclusively devoted to the accommodation of ladies; except when rolled up, and tied, as has been explained in regard to cheeks.


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