(62) Posts, and conveyance of parcels, &c., travelling in a palanquin, swelling of rivers, rice, mode of expelling weevils, meal from barley, wheat [[420-437]]
[] During the dry season, or at least for four months in the year, scarce a part of the country opposes the progress of a traveller, unless through those immense wildernesses already described. It may, on the whole, be said that one half the country is passable at all seasons by land; though the progress will doubtless be slow and difficult during the heavy falls of rain. Intercourse is never at a stand.
The dawk, or post, proceeds at all seasons; and is rarely more than two days longer on its way from Calcutta to the upper provinces, than at the favourable time of the year. Bridges and ferries are found on all the great roads; whereby regiments have occasionally marched, on emergency, with such dispatch as could scarcely have been exceeded even during the hot season.
The communication with Europe, overland, has been established, during peaceable times, for full thirty years; [] but it was not till about twelve years ago [from 1810] that the public have been permitted to avail themselves of so essential a means of correspondence at fixed rates, and under particular regulations. Prior to that period, the Company used to receive and dispatch packets overland, in which occasional indulgences were granted to favoured individuals.
The utility of some permanent and certain conveyance for
a quarter daily becoming more opulent and more important, cannot be
were it only for the purpose of transmitting bills of exchange payable
after sight; the notices of bankruptcies, the information of intended
the state of the markets, &c., such a systematic communication must
be invaluable to the several merchants. To the Government it is of the
With the exception of such parts as may be infested by tigers, the post seldom or never fails of arriving within an hour of its appointed time, except, as has been observed, when the waters are out. In this case, many circuitous roads must be followed, whereby the way is considerably lengthened. Taking the average, a hundred miles per day may be run over by the dawk, or post, in fair weather. Each mail-bag is conveyed by an hurkaru (or runner) who is attended by one or two doogy-wallahs, or drummers, who keep up a kind of long-roll, as they pass any suspicious place.
Two mushulchees, or link-bearers, generally accompany each dawk, and where tigers are known to commit depredations, one or two teerin-dauses, or archers, are supplied to protect the party. But such puny aid is of no avail; for the onset of the tiger is too sudden, and too discomforting, to allow any effort of consequence to be timously [=in time (?)] adopted. The very act of seizure is a death-blow, from which it was [] never heard that anyone recovered; provided the unhappy victim were not so particularly situated as to prevent it from decidedly taking effect.
A tiger invariably strikes his prey with the fore-paw, in so forcible a manner as often to fracture the skull; which generally is the object aimed at, many oxen having had their cheek bones shivered by the contusion. It sometimes happens that the marks of one or two claws are to be seen, but they are generally en passant, and by no means the result of primary intention. The wrist of a tiger being often nearly two feet [??] in circumference, may give some idea of the violence with which the coup-de-grace falls on the head of a human being.
The mushuuls, or flambeaux, are intended to intimidate the tigers, as are also the doog-doogies; but experience has shown that when hungry, tigers are not to be restrained by any such device. Instances indeed have occurred of the mushuulchees themselves being carried off. It would, nevertheless, be presumptuous to judge from such partial data, that many tigers are not deterred by the noise and fire accompanying the letter-carriers. On the contrary, it seems probable that many young tigers, or such grown ones as may not be hungry, nor attended by cubs, are frequently intimidated by these precautions.
"A residence of two years at Hazary-Baug, the station for a battalion in the Ramghur district, enabled me," says Captain Williamson, "to form a fair estimate of the dangers to which the dawk, and travellers in general, were subject. During some seasons, the roads were scarcely to be considered passable. Day after day, for nearly a fortnight in succession, some of the dawk people were carried off, either at Goomeah, Kannachitty, Katcumsandy, or Dungaie; four passes in that country, all famous for the exploits of these enemies to the human race."
[] So few valuables are ever sent by the post, that
attempt any depredations on the letter-bags. Hoondies (banker's
drafts) would be of no use whatever to them; and as bank-notes are not
in general currency, no object is held out for enterprise of that
Nor do the dawk-bangies, or parcel-dawks, offer any
inducement; for even if any plate, watches, or trinkets were sent by
a conveyance, the want of a market, and the impossibility of confiding
in any village jeweller, would render the act both hazardous and
Hence the dawk generally proceeds in perfect safety throughout
part of the country, while the bangies may be considered
It has frequently been asked why, in a country so completely under British control, mails were not established, similar to those in use throughout England. Before this can be effected, an immense revolution must take place, not only in the minds of the natives, but in the features of the country. At present there appears, on the part of the inhabitants, no desire to communicate by land, except for the purpose of attending hauts (markets), maylahs (fairs), or for a resort to certain places of worship, &c. For such purposes, a pedestrian trip suffices; or at the utmost, a pony worth only a few shillings is either borrowed or hired.
The contact of various casts, or sects, being considered a pollution, it is not to be supposed that a Hindoo would like to be pent up for hours together with a Mahomedan, who makes no scruple of killing and eating a cow; or that the Moossulman would, in his turn, feel comfortable under similar circumstances with a British kaufur (unbeliever) who, besides his condemnation of the prophet, makes no scruple of eating pork.
Admitting that all parties were agreed to associate within a stage-coach, there would not [] be intercourse sufficient to support the expenses, where horses are so dear, and the necessary repairs could not, in case of accident, be promptly effected. Then again, the roads must be made suitable at an enormous expense, and afterwards supported by heavy disbursements, or by a contribution of labour on the part of the land-holders, by no means agreeable to their feelings.
All this may in time pass under a complete metamorphosis. The produce of the country will be more generally estimable; the people will relax greatly from the vigorous attention now paid to religious tenets; and as their prejudices may give way to their true interests, they will extend their speculations without fear or restriction. Those who then inhabit India will see roads, mails, and inns; whereas at present, there are only pathways and runners, but no inns.
There are, to be sure, seraies and choulties for the accommodation of travellers, but these are mostly going fast to decay; and at the best, can be viewed only as shelter for men and cattle, goods being usually left exposed to the weather. The bytearens, or female cooks, who proffer their services at such places, and who, on receiving money beforehand, buy and cook such victuals as may be ordered, or the place may afford, cannot be considered otherwise than as menials, and not to be classed with our inn-keepers; no, nor even with the poorest village retailer.
There is, however, a wide field for practical improvement, as may be fully understood from the following statement. The dawk rarely travels the stage of eight miles (four cosses), on the average, at a less expense than twenty-five rupees per month. This sum is absorbed at each chokey, or relief at the end of a stage, by a moonshee, who pretends to be very scrupulous in ascertaining that [] all the parcels are right, but who is more intent on receiving little presents of ottah (meal), spices, &c., sent to him from the neighbouring villages, in return for letters conveyed by the dawk-hurkarus, who are sometimes laden pretty heavily with such contributions.
It appears that the above sum would carry on the system with double the speed, and double the efficiency. Instead of sending off four, five, and six men with the dawks, let a horseman convey the bags for about twelve miles, on an allowance of fifteen rupees per month for man and horse; and during the rainy season, when the roads are deep, let a fresh horse be allowed for the several returns, instead of causing the same man and horse to return with the counter-dawks. On this allowance a very good steed might be kept, the celerity of the dawk would be greatly increased, and there would he no occasion for moonshees, except at such chokies as might be upon diverging roads, where it would be necessary to have the proper parcels sorted out, and delivered to the various branch-dawks.
Travelling in a palanquin by dawk (post) is effected much in the same manner as the dispatch of the dawks. Bearers are stationed at the several stages for the purpose of relief; each station, in general, supplying eight bearers and a bangy, in all nine men, together with one or two mushuulchees for night-stages. The expense of travelling in this manner depends greatly on the distance. If for only a short journey, such as may be compassed within eight or ten hours, it is only needful to send forward a set or two of bearers, who then receive their daily hire of four annas (8d.) each, while out from home; or a hurkaru (or messenger) may be dispatched to collect bearers at the several stages.
Thus relays may be properly supplied, and the cost will not exceed a rupee for three miles; equal to ten-pence a mile; whereas in [] the ordinary mode of having bearers provided by the postmaster, each mile will cost full one rupee (2s. 6d.), besides various little disbursements by ways of buxees, or presents, to every set of bearers in the journey. These may be fairly estimated at two rupees for every set, or relief, which, if the distances run by each should average ten miles, will be about twenty rupees (21. 10s.) for every hundred miles. The ordinary rates of this kind of conveyance are four miles per hour during the cold season, three and a half during the hot season, and from two to three during the rains, provided the waters are not much out; otherwise, no estimate can be formed. The above includes stops.
The establishment of dawk-bangies for the conveyance of parcels, at rates proportioned to their weights, has produced considerable convenience to residents at a distance from the Presidency. Till this plan was adopted, few could send small articles, such as trinkets, &c., to the Presidency, but under favour of some individual who was travelling thither, and who might possibly be some months on the way. The same inconvenience attended the return; so that it was not uncommon for a gentleman whose watch required inspection, to be four or five months deprived of its use. This is now done away, and a watch, &c. may be sent from Cawnpore to Calcutta, there undergo repair, and be returned with ease in the course of a month or less.
The same kind of convenience is, of course, afforded respecting books, and all other articles too bulky, or too heavy, to proceed by the dawk, but not of sufficient importance to induce the employment of a boat, or of a bangy, to convey them. Nor, indeed, could a single bearer travel with a bangy more than twenty miles within the twenty-four hours. Thus he would be full a month [] in going from Calcutta to Cawnpore; whereas the dawk-bangies, travelling by relays of bearers, can almost keep up with the dawk-hurkarus, who carry the mail-bags suspended at the end of a stick over their shoulders.
The communication by water between Calcutta and the several subordinate stations, whether civil or military, is much used, during the rainy season in particular. At that time, few stations are inaccessible to craft of some description, though but for a while. Those immense falls of rain which fill the ravines and make every little creek navigable for boats of ten or fifteen tons, swell the Ganges, and the other great rivers, to an astonishing height; causing them to run with awful velocity.
The rivers generally rise in May but a few inches only; in June, they often approach the summits of their banks, between which they fluctuate, rising and falling, till the great swell, which takes place in August. The river sometimes rises twice, thrice, or even four times, during the season; but in general, one ample inundation serves all the purposes of agriculture, provided the rains do not afterwards abate too suddenly in September, before the rice is cut. Such an untimely cessation is attended with great mortality: the immense expanse of slime, suddenly exposed to the influence of the sun, then on the equinoctial, throws forth the most destructive miasma, whereby are propagated epidemics of the most dangerous description.
The swelling of the great rivers is a matter of considerable uncertainty. Sometimes they rise very early, before the quantity of rain that falls in the lower provinces induces the expectation of such a rise. Then it is not uncommon to see the Cossimbazar river, commonly called the Baugrutty, nearly dry at night, and full twenty feet or more deep the next morning. In other seasons, the [] waters are very tardy; a matter of serious moment to the husbandman, who is naturally anxious to plant his crop of rice in due time, so that it may be securely attached to the soil before the great inundation.
The growth of the rice stalk is certainly one of the most curious proofs of Nature's adaptation of that plant to the situation in which it is cultivated. It will not thrive unless the stem be immersed for several inches; and owing to the formation of its stalk, which draws out like the concentric tubes of a pocket-telescope, it can put forth many feet in the course of a few hours, so as apparently to grow as fast as the water rises, and to keep its pannicle from being overflowed. It is by no means rare for the rice stalk to shoot forth from five to six feet during the twenty-four hours. It has been seen to do much more.
In parts subject to the regular annual inundation, all the villages are built on rising grounds. Many stand on artificial mounds, formed by excavations around their bases; so that they are nearly surrounded by moats, in which their dingies, or small boats, are immersed during the dry season, and which afford admirable refreshment to their buffaloes during the summer heats. It sometimes happens that the waters rise so high as to endanger even these elevated villages, some of which are then completely inundated. To avoid this danger, most of the houses are built on piles or stakes, so as to raise their floors from four to six feet above the ground, and they are open enough to permit the waters to pass through with freedom.
In the dry time of the year, the cattle are occasionally kept within these inclosed areas under the floors; but while the inundation is at its height, so as to insulate a village completely, all the live stock are kept in boats moored around it, and fed with a species of doob, or doop-grass, dragged up from the bottom of the waters [] by means of split bamboos, made to serve as forks. Without so providential a supply, the cattle must be led many miles, to some part of the country whose elevation exempts it from inundation.
The description of a country so completely under water cannot but cause considerable surprise. The fact is, however, too well known to be disputed. Even at Berhampore, which is not considered as within the ordinary verge of inundation, it is common to see boats of great burden, perhaps fifty tons, sailing over the plains, as through a boundless sea. As to the country lying between the mouth of the Jellinghy and the debouchures of the Ganges, that is always overflowed for full three months, perhaps to the average depth of ten or twelve feet. "I have sailed over it," says Captain Williamson, "full a hundred miles by the compass; aided, indeed, by some remarkable villages, mosques, banks, &c. well known to the boatmen, who probably from their earliest days, had, traversed the same expanse during every rainy season."
Were it not for the water being strongly coloured, and the strength of the current, it would not be easy in many places to distinguish the great rivers which are crossed in steering through this fresh-water ocean. The water of the inundation is generally of a bluish tinge, derived from the mass of vegetable matter at the bottom; of which a certain quantity decays, and partially taints the fluid. A large portion is concealed by the d'haun (or rice). This in the first instance bears the appearance of a long grass, of a rich green, rising above the surface, so as to be mistaken at a little distance for terra firma; gradually, the pannicles shoot forth, of a pale dun colour, turning, as they ripen, to a deep dun or light clay.
The grains of rice, which are called by Europeans [] paddy, retain the name of d'haun while they are in their coats; as we often see a few grains among the rice imported. These coats feel peculiarly harsh, and are fluted longitudinally, so that no water can lodge upon them. Each grain is fastened to a short stalk joining a main stem, and furnishing a very pleasing bunch of grain, not very dissimilar to an ear of oats; but far richer, both in colour and in quantity. Rice, having no husk or chaff, is easily separated from the straw, which is eaten by cattle for want of other provender and, being very long and soft, makes excellent litter.
Where the inundation prevails, the straw is of little use: the grain floats, and the straw settling at the bottom as the waters subside, thereby adding to the natural fertility of the soil. In the more elevated parts, the straw is cut the same as in the rubbee, or corn, crops and bundled for domestic purposes. There, its length rarely exceeds two feet, whereas among the inundations, it is often seen from fifteen to eighteen feet in length. The head, or pannicle, generally bears from a hundred and fifty to three hundred grains of rice.
There are two modes of clearing rice from the shell; the one by the very simple process of scalding, which occasions the rice to swell, and to burst the shell, so that the latter is removed with very little trouble; the other is, by putting the d'haun into an immense wooden mortar, called an ookly, and beating it by the application of two or more beetles, called moosuls, of about four feet in length by three inches in diameter, shod at the bottom with iron ferules, and thinned towards their centres, so as to be grasped by the women; each alternately impelling one, in nearly a perpendicular direction, among the d'haun in the ookly.
After the shells have been duly separated, the rice, now
is winnowed, either in [] a strong draught of air, or by means of
a kind of scoop made of fine wicker-work, called a soop;
the native women can most dexterously separate different kinds of corn,
and effectually remove all rubbish. The coat of rice is peculiarly
and not much relished by cattle. It has been mixed with dung, for fuel,
with excellent effect.
Some of the more fastidious prefer one or the other, according to particular prejudices handed down in their families, or supposed to appertain to their respective sects. The scalded rice seems, generally, deficient in flavour; the grains being larger and less compact. The beaten rice certainly boils with rather more difficulty, but appears whiter and drier. The scalded rice does not immediately separate from the coat, but is usually submitted to the operation of a machine composed of a stout beam, nearly equipoised by means of a thorough-pin, on a fork of wood, also fixed in the ground.
It is inconceivable what quantities of rice, of a coarse reddish cast, but peculiarly sweet and large grained, are prepared for exportation about Backergunge, near the debouchure of the Megna. In that quarter fuel is cheap, and water conveyance everywhere at hand; so that the immense crops raised in the inundated districts find a ready sale. The average return from a bigah of 1600 square yards, of three bigahs to our statute acre, sown with about twenty-five seers of d'haun, may be taken at nine maunds. The demand always regulates the value, especially when great consignments are forwarded to the coast of Coromandel.
[] Large quantities of rice are usually cleared by contract; the operator receiving the grain at the door of the golah, or warehouse, where he sets up his cauldron and machines, and returning twenty-five seers of clean rice for every maund (forty seers) delivered to him; he finding the fuel, and reserving the husks. In a country where labour is so cheap, it is not necessary to have recourse to mechanical devices for diminishing the expense of such operations; yet were tide wheels to be used at Backer-gunge and elsewhere, or a floating mill, like that moored between Blackfriars and London Bridge, to be made out of some condemned hulk, an immense advantage would be gained in regard to time.
By the proper adaptation of machinery, whereby the rice might be hoisted in, or lowered down, either by the force of water or of steam, and the beetles be properly worked, the grain would certainly be prepared for market in less time, and less charge for cooly hire, in landing, loading, &c. Should this hint be well received by any speculating European, it might tend to lower the prices of rice at those times when either from want of labourers, or from the expediency of shipping off with as little delay as possible, the saving of a few days might prove an important object. At all events, the work might be done more regularly, frugally, and independently than by manual process.
The rice grown in the low countries by no means equals that produced in the uplands, where it is cultivated with great care, and subjected to many vicissitudes, owing to the state of moisture in which its roots are retained. In many parts of the most hilly districts d'haun is to be seen in every little narrow valley, winding among the bases of those stupendous eminences from which the torrents of rain supply a superabundant flow of moisture at one time; while, at others, only the little rills proceeding [] from boggy springs seem to feed the artificial pools, in which the growing plants are kept in a state of semi-immersion by means of small embankments made of mud.
In every instance the d'haun is to be kept duly watered; else it withers and becames unproductive. In order to preserve the water as much as possible, the bed, or level, nearest to the springs, is raised as high as can be afforded, and its exterior border banked up with soil to about a foot and a half. The next level may be from a foot to a yard lower, to receive the overflow, which is again passed on to the next lower bed; and thus in succession, for perhaps a mile or more; the ends of the beds requiring no embankment, as the land rises on either side.
Such situations afford a certain crop, in ordinary seasons; and should the rains fail, the dews falling on the adjacent hills, generally covered with jungle of some kind, ordinarily afford moisture enough to keep up the springs, thus causing sufficient dampness to prevent the rice from perishing, before some ample showers may again float the whole of the irrigated cultivation.
Rice thus produced is commonly small in grain, rather long and wiry; but remarkably white, and admirably suited to the table. The natives, though they admire its appearance, are not partial to it, generally preferring the larger-bodied grain, with a reddish inner rind, which does not readily separate, when new, from the rice. This kind, as before observed, is assuredly the sweetest, and is on that account preferred by those who distil arrack.
Remoteness from sea air is said to be the reason why the up-country rice possesses less saccharine matter than that grown near the sea-coast, and among the inundation; but this appears an erroneous judgment. There is no doubt a great increase of saccharine matter in plants (of the same genus) cultivated on spots well manured. Now [] few, if any, of the places devoted to the cultivation of rice in the upper country, receive much aid from manure; nor are they, in general, subject to the reception of nutritious particles, such as are either floated down, or engendered and deposited by the inundation, which may be viewed as the grand depot of whatever can enrich the soil.
Looking to the large tracts of plain not subject to such an immense flow of feculous moisture, but seeming merely as reservoirs for the retention of local rains, it will appear that the superior sweetness of the rice produced about Backergunge, Dacca, Hajygunge, Luricool, Mahomedpore, Comercolly, Jessore, &c., is to be attributed solely to the superior fatness of the soil, on which the most luxuriant crops of cotton and esculents are raised during the dry season. When the soil is fresh turned up for the second crop, it is generally very offensive, and doubtless by no means favourable to the health of the cultivators, who at that season (commonly in November, December, and January) are subjected to very obstinate agues.
Rice is very subject to the weevil, which often multiplies so fast among it, as to threaten destruction to the whole depot. The natives have a very simple preventive; for by placing one or two live cray-fish within the heap, their effluvia quickly expel the predatory tribe. Here is a question for naturalists and philosophers; a question pregnant with interest to the agricultural world, namely, Whether there is any particular, and what, property in a live cray-fish, that produces this effect upon insects, under such circumstances?
Whatever may be the cause, the effect is well known; therefore the inquiry is so far forwarded as to furnish data, or at least hints, respecting those results which may be expected both from marine productions and other living bodies. The inhabitants [] of the lower provinces being chiefly Hindoo, whose religious tenets lead them to consider almost every animal as unclean, few experiments could be expected to take place among them. Otherwise, we might probably have found that any living animal, such as a rat, a frog, &c., if confined in a small box, and placed within a heap of rice infested by weevils, would produce a similar effect.
Rice is not subject to this species of depredation when in the coat, that is, in the state called d'haun; but the natives are averse to retaining it in that form, because the grains shrink considerably, and when beat out for sale, do not occupy so much space as when exposed to the air. Hence, it is an object with the rice-merchants to dispose of their crops before March, unless the markets should be so glutted as to cause that grain to sell, as it has sold in some years, at such low prices as could not fail to ruin the farmer. It has been known so cheap as seven and eight maunds (equal to seven cwt.) for a rupee. When this happens, merchants who have the command of money rarely fail to make immense fortunes. Many have been known to possess four or five lacs of maunds.
Rice is the most common article of food among the natives, whether Hindoo or Moossulmans, throughout the lower provinces, where it is to be found in far greater abundance than corn of any description. The inhabitants of the upper provinces subsist chiefly on the meals of wheat and barley; which, being well kneaded with water, are made into chow-patties, or bannocks, baked at the common choolahs, and are both palatable and nourishing.
The natives consider rice to be very injurious to the sight; but probably whatever injury arises from its use proceeds entirely from eating it too hot, and in such quantities at one meal, generally about sunset, as can scarecely fail to injure the stomach. Barley meal is considered, [] and with great justice, to be very nourishing, but heating; therefore most who prefer ottah (meal) to rice, use that made from wheat. Large quantities of rice are carried upwards, towards the Nabob Vizier's dominions, where it sells to great advantage; while, on the other hand, immense consignments of corn, chiefly wheat, barley, and r'hur, are made from those parts towards the lower districts; where they are consumed by persons of all classes.
While the Baugrutty (the Cossimbazar river) and the Jellinghy,
of which branch from the Ganges and, uniting at Nuddeah, form the
which passes Calcutta, are open, boats of all kinds proceed that way;
chiefly through the former channel, on which Moorshedabad, Berhampore,
Cossimbazar, and Jungypore are situated. This is the shortest line of
by water between the Presidency and the upper provinces; but
open only for about six months in the year; rarely having water before
the middle of June, and
In such it may be passed, provided they be dragged over the shallows which, often for a mile or more, oppose the progress of whatever may draw more than a few inches of water. In such a case, the bottom of a boat should be good; otherwise she may be strained by the immense exertions of perhaps fifty men, who, ranging along either side, and dragging by means of ropes, as well as by pushing and lifting behind, force her along the shallows, and thus pass her over all the more prominent obstacles. "I have more than once," says Captain Williamson, "had a very small pulwar-budjrow navigated, if I may so call it, down the Baugrutty, from Mohanahpore, at the mouth of that river, as far as Berhampore; which by land is full forty [] miles, and by water cannot be less than seventy. But there are so many bars, or shoals, between Berhampore and Augah-Deep, about thirty-five miles by land, lower down, as to render that part absolutely impassable, except when the river has an average depth of two feet, or two feet and a half."