(66) Hire of budjrows, rates and distances, precautions, contraband trade, trading and baggage boats, tracking, Decoits, or pirates, guards requisite, Coolees, Chuokeedars, and Dowraws, expert thieves, anecdotes, leger de main, puppet-shows, gymnastic feasts, Nuts or Indian gypsies, dancers [[448-478]]
[] In travelling by water, many preparations totally unheeded by European tourists, require a necessary attention previous to departure. It has been already mentioned that no furnished house, lodgings, public vehicles, or inns; in short, no preparation for the lodgment or convenience of temporary sojourners, are to be expected in any part of India; with the exception of the taverns and punch-houses already described. Therefore, for an excursion by water, a budjrow must be hired, either by what is called teekah, or so much for the trip, according to the distance, with some allowance for demurrage; or at a certain monthly sum, generally rated at ten rupees per oar. Sometimes return-budjrows are to be hired at a cheaper rate. In either case, the person hiring has no concern with the pay or provision of the several men employed in navigating the vessel.
A boat may, at most seasons of the year, proceed to Berhampore (the river being open) in about seven or eight days. The distance by water is nearly double that by land, owing to the winding course of the river, which formerly could compete with that passing under Lucknow; which, owing to the mazes of its course, received the name of Goomty, or winding. Within the last thirty years, however, many of the narrow isthmuses have been cut through, whereby the distance from Moorshedabad to Calcutta has been reduced full twenty miles. Some yet require the aid of art, to perfect what the hand of time seems preparing for still further abbreviating the passage [] by water.
Probably in a course of years, the river may be brought into a tolerable line. How long it will remain so, is another consideration; as the soil is everywhere, except about Rangamatty (the red soil) a few miles below Berhampore, so loose as to be totally unqualified to restrain the violent current which, during four months in the year, prevails in every part.
The passage to Chittagong can rarely be performed in a common budjrow, a great part of it being across the mouth of the Megna, in an open sea, subject to very heavy swells, if not to squalls, such as give much trouble even to those who are on board substantial sloops, and other vessels coming under the description of sea-boats. However, during the cold months, an adventurous manjy, for a handsome gratuity, will sometimes hazard the trip with his budjrow.
The best mode is to embark at Calcutta on board one of the Chittagong traders, of which some are commonly on the point of sailing, and to make a sea trip at once, in a secure and a tolerably pleasant manner. This mode does not indeed offer all the conveniences of a large budjrow, but that is balanced by the safety and celerity of the voyage. A budjrow will rarely complete the trip to Chittagong under three weeks; whereas a coasting sloop will commonly perform it in as many days after quitting the pilot, either in the northerly or southerly monsoon; the coast being east, with a very little southing.
After a budjrow has been offered for hire, it will be but common prudence to send a carpenter on board to search her bottom, and to place a servant on board for a day and a night, to ascertain how much water she may take in during that time. Some of the best in appearance are extremely rotten, and can only be kept afloat by constant [] baling, in consequence either of the depredations of worms, or of the length of time since they were built. Some are neat and clean, others filthy in the extreme Some are supplied with good Venetians, lockers, curtains outside the windows, &c. &c.; while not a few, though not totally destitute of such conveniences, offer them in a condition most wretched and useless. The roofs of nine in ten do not keep out water.
It will, on every occasion, be indispensable to make memoranda of the terms on which the budjrow, &c., may be hired; and to obtain from the manjy a written agreement; the want of which may prove unpleasant, either from misunderstanding, or any attempt to impose upon such European as may be supposed too ignorant of the ordinary routine of such affairs, to secure them from depredation.
The masts, sails, rigging, &c., of the vessel must be overhauled; and in particular, great care should be taken that one or two good ghoons, or track ropes, of sufficient length, be on board. A defect in this branch of equipment will inevitably produce great delay, and, in strong currents, subject the boat to imminent danger.
Whatever be the number of oars paid for, so many ought to be the actual boatmen there, exclusive of the manjy, or steersman, and the goleah, or bowman. It is a very common deception to count the latter among the rowers, because he sometimes sits to an oar fitted out for him on the very prow of the vessel, when there is no occasion for his standing to throw the luggy, or bamboo-pole, whereby the boat is kept clear of banks, shoals, stumps, &c.
When an engagement is made of the teekah, or job-kind, the manjy, for his own sake, will endeavour to proceed as speedily as possible, and to make sure of a good [] crew, that his money may be sooner earned; but when paid by the month, there will be no end to excuses, delays, and evasions. The dandies will generally be wanting in number, and their quality very indifferent.
The best mode, on such occasions, is to apply to the police, which, under proper evidence of criminality, will put a peon (or messenger) on board, at the expense of the delinquent, and make such a change in the posture of affairs as cannot fail to please the employer. This is a safe and efficacious mode of proceeding; whereas when the person hiring the boat takes justice into his own hands, and abuse and blows are dealt out, under the hope of gaining the point, the dandies, now assured of a ground of complaint, so far from doing their duty, will either abscond wholly, or secrete themselves so as effectually to impose an embargo.
Yet sometimes a recourse to corporal correction may be advisable, if not necessary. Such, however, must be inflicted with extreme caution, and with such a mixture of resolution and conciliation, as may produce the desired effect, without establishing a character for brutality or unnecessary harshness. If, during the trip, occasion for complaint should arise, it is best to refer the matter to any persons in office, whether native or European, within a suitable distance.
The manjies have an insuperable antipathy to this mode of proceeding, because it deprives them of all grounds for justification or representation; the want of which, in the hearing of an European magistrate, speedily produces their corporal punishment; while, in the estimation of a cutwal, or chief of a village, it surely subjects them to some pecuniary loss, whether by fine, by deduction from the sum to be paid as hire, or by an obligation to maintain one or more peons, according to the nature of the offence.
[] Most budjrows have two apartments, exclusive of an open veranda in front. The latter is on a level with the dining apartment; but the chamber, which is more towards the stern, rises one or two steps above their level, in consequence of the form of the vessel's stern. As the chamber contracts considerably towards the after-part of its floor, it will be necessary to ascertain whether a small cot (a bedstead) can stand in that part of the budjrow without inconvenience; as also, whether the height between the floor and the roof will admit of bed-posts. If not, the curtains must be suspended from hooks, nails, &c., driven for that purpose into the beams that support the roof.
Though floating on a river, whose waters are celebrated for their virtues and purity by the whole population of Hindoostan, it will, nevertheless, be indispensably necessary to take on board a large g'oulah, or jar of water, which may be lashed to the mast, to serve for culinary purposes or beverage. In a few hours it will have settled thoroughly, and should then be drawn off, as required, into smaller vessels, called by Europeans kedjeree-pots, but gurrahs by the natives. The former designation probably resulted either from the supplies of crockery furnished to our shipping at Kedjeree, or from the very common circumstance of that preparation of rice, split peas, &c., called kitchurry, which may often be seen boiling, wholesale, in vessels of this description, for the supply of a dozen dandies, &c.
The forepart of every budjrow is decked, and has two hatchways, with appropriate coverings. The whole of that part under the deck, which reaches from the veranda to the stern, is generally considered by the manjy as a privilege, of which he rarely fails to avail himself, when it is possible to render the trip a trading voyage. Against [] this, too much precaution cannot be adopted; for not only will the budjrow be so heavily laden as to draw more water (an object of considerable importance), but to track with far greater difficulty, and to leak abundantly.
If any contraband trade can be carried on with tolerable safety, it is usually in this manner: because, owing to the general deference paid by the custom-house officers, and chokey-peons, in every part of the country, to European gentlemen and their equipages, few or none will attempt to search a budjrow under hire. The facility with which goods can be landed is such as to obviate, almost totally, any danger to be apprehended in the performance of that part of the adventure.
Government has, it is true, placed a number of checks on this kind of fraud. It is, however, unhappily out of its power to go so far into the remedy as would put a total stop to illicit commerce, without subjecting their own servants, of whatever rank, to the intrusive, and ultimately the insolent, researches of those natives by whom they should, on every occasion, be treated with the utmost respect and consideration. It is inconceivable with what secrecy and caution the manjies act on such occasions.
A gentleman hiring a budjrow at Patna, to proceed to the Presidency, vainly importuned the manjy, day after day, and hour after hour, to complete his crew, and to have all in readiness for embarkation: at length all was adjusted, and the vessel proceeded in high style.
The gentleman was unaccountably drowsy, and often wondered at the rapidity with which he seemed to be making his passage, but was not displeased to find himself so speedily floated towards the place of destination. It was in vain that he endeavoured to prevent the manjy from stopping at Chandernagore, a French settlement, about twenty-two miles from Calcutta; when, to his great [] surprise, he saw several boxes of opium, which had been concealed in various parts of the budjrow, and particularly under the floors, handed out to some sirkars who were at the ghaut, or landing-place, anxiously awaiting her arrival.
However unpleasant might be the above-mentioned cargo, the grievance cannot be compared with the truly offensive practice common among all the boatmen of Hindoostan, of cutting such fish as they purchase, catch, or steal, into slices, and hanging them over the quarters to become sun-dried. This custom should never be tolerated on any account; not only because the effluvia are cruelly distressing, but that, wherever it is allowed to obtain, all the rats are sure to be attracted from whatever boats, or banks, may come in contact with the budjrow. Nor can they be got rid of except by emptying the vessel completely, and fumigating her with sulphur; or by sinking her for a while, so as to drown the vermin of all descriptions which harbour in the numberless recesses, chinks, &c., to be found in every quarter of an old budjrow.
When a single gentleman desires to proceed on the most economical and expeditious plan, he should not have even a cook-boat in his suite, but confine himself entirely to whatever convenience his budjrow may afford. On this plan, the several boxes, &c., may be arranged within the cabins, or at the utmost, under the deck; taking care, however, to debar the dandies from visiting that part of the vessel, by placing stout battens, or bamboo-laths, across, to confine them to the fore hatchway, down which they ordinarily keep their clothes, fire-wood, &c., &c., and, occasionally, make a choolah, or hearth and fire-place, of mud, whereon to cook the victuals of the crew. This operation is performed by one of the dandies, who is thus [] exempted from all ordinary duties, and is generally capable of serving up an admirably well-savoured curry.
The after-part of the hold is commonly spacious enough to hold a tent of a common size. It may, however, become a question how far it would be prudent to put camp equipage in the way of the rats, which would probably, for the sake of shelter in the vicinity of the culinary operations, soon burrow into the hearts of the packages, and do inconceivable damage. If, however, no other place can be allotted for the reception of a tent, and the weather such that it cannot be stowed on the poop, no alternative is left, and the risk must be encountered, of destruction, or, at least, of very serious injury.
A tent of some kind, though not indispensable, will be found extremely convenient, when proceeding by water to any distant station, especially during the hot season. As the boatmen usually come to about sunset, or perhaps a little earlier if invited by any favourable situation, or the proximity of some large town, a small tent may easily be taken ashore, and pitched on the elevated bank. The freshness of the air, and the wide range of prospect, afford a most comfortable relief to a person obliged during the day to remain under the heated roof of a cabin, with its windows closed to keep out the sun, hot winds, and flying sand.
Many gentlemen have one small boat employed chiefly in going forward with such a convenience, and which, after the bed, &c. has been shipped at daybreak on board the budjrow, that no delay may arise in departing, waits to receive the baggage left on the spot, with which it proceeds at such a rate as soon makes up for the detention. A boat of this kind is extremely useful in many instances, but especially in procuring supplies from an opposite bank, for going to or from shore in shoal water, for towing a budjrow [] in strong waters, for carrying out an anchor, or rope to warp by, &c. &c.
Where only a budjrow and such a small boat are employed, the latter has generally a choolah, or hearth &c., prepared within it, under a small thatch. She commonly carries the proper supply of dry fire-wood; that obtained on the way being, with few exceptions, green, and causing the viands to acquire a very smoky, unpleasant flavour. The poultry are also usually conveyed on the thatch of the cook-boat, in small tappahs, or cages, made of split bamboos. This part of the stock may consist of a dozen fowls, a few ducks, a goose or two, and occasionally one or two milch goats. These being supplied, during the day, with foliage cut for that purpose, and being sent to some verdant spot when the boat comes to, in the evening, rarely fail to furnish milk enough, of a very superior quality, for tea, morning and evening.
The traveller must not expect beef, mutton, or veal in any part of the country, except at military or civil stations. There he may perhaps purchase a supply of meat to give some variety to his diet, as he passes from one stage to another; but, unless in some very particular situations, he must content himself with poultry of various kinds, chiefly chickens, and kids, of which the meat is excellent. He may, at some of the principal towns where Moosulmans reside, occasionally find a butcher who can furnish a joint of kussy (cut-goat); or he may perchance pick up a tolerable sheep, which at all events will serve for gravy, and supply his pointers and spaniels with two or three days' substantial provision.
The mention of cutting up a sheep for such purposes may appear extraordinary to a European reader, but it must be recollected, that such sheep are rarely worth more than two shillings, that in some parts the country swarms [] with them, and that their wool is not valuable, owing to its being lank, coarse, harsh, and not of a strong fibre. It is, indeed, more like hair, such as grows upon horses turned out during the winter, and comes off by handfuls as the spring advances.
The boats employed for carrying baggage are of two kinds: woolachs and patellies. The former are built in the lower provinces, with round bottoms; and often draw much water. The latter are chiefly up-country built, have flat bottoms, and are clinkered. This construction fits them admirably for the shallows, which, after the rainy season, abound in all the rivers beyond the tide's way, and especially at a distance from the sea.
Some of the woolachs used by the more opulent native merchants carry from fifteen hundred to three thousand maunds (eighty to a hundred and twenty tons), but their medium may be taken at from four to eight hundred maunds, which is also the general measurement of patellies in the common employ of grain-merchants, &c. There are many of full two thousand maunds, but such are calculated only for great rivers; though in the channels such a depth of water may be found, that several ships of five hundred tons burden have been built at Patna, which is, by water, six hundred miles from the sea. Those channels, however, are so crooked, and the currents so strong, as to render it very difficult for the ordinary number of dandies, proportioned to the tonnage, to navigate such unwieldy boats with safety and expertness.
The best size for a baggage-boat to attend upon a budjrow, especially in proceeding against the stream, may be from three to five hundred maunds. The patelly is far better calculated for shallow water, and for the conveyance of horses, than a woolach; but the former being so low in the water, is rather subject to be swamped in rough water, [] and owing to its construction is very apt to become backed, and ultimately to give way in the middle; an accident which seldom or never happens to the latter.
When horses are to be carried in boats, as is very common, a platform consisting of brush-wood, mats, and soil is required, at about a foot from the bottom of the boat. The thwarts being rarely a yard asunder, one must be taken out to make a stall sufficiently wide; of course, if three or four horses are put on board the same boat, a corresponding number of thwarts must be withdrawn. When the animals are to be embarked, the thatch opposite the stall must be raised high enough to allow a horse to leap in from the bank without danger.
This often proves a very difficult operation; for some horses are extremely averse to enter on the solid platform of a large substantial ferry-boat, such as that at Ghyretty, even when placed on a level with it, by means of a fixed or moveable pier. When, therefore, the obstacles are considered,[to] the admission of a horse into a covered boat, when probably he is standing above his knees in water, and has to rise, under every disadvantage, over the boat's gunwale, it will not be surprising that many hold out for hours, notwithstanding every effort on the part of the syces (or grooms), and that a large portion are severely lamed in the attempt.
It is curious to observe how very quiet and temperate horses become after embarkation. They seem to forget the propensity they invariably display on shore, to attack each other, even when at a considerable distance; but while in a boat, though parted by only a few feet, they become so tractable that their natures appear completely changed.
Notwithstanding this periodical or rather local timidity, it will be proper to secure that part of the boat's [] side against which a horse may be able to kick. Many instances have occurred, of fiery steeds driving their hoofs through the planks, which are not always very sound; and even if undecayed, are generally by far too thin to resist so severe an operation. More than one patelly has foundered outright, with all the contents, in consequence of such an accident. The best mode of prevention is, to fasten a quantity of jow (an aquatic species of fern) to the inside, as a lining, whereby the planks may be secured from injury.
When a vessel is tracked against the stream, it is usual for the dandies, or boatmen, to go ashore, each furnished with a club of bamboo about two feet in length, to which a piece of strong cord is fastened at one end. At the same time, the ghoon, or track-rope, is veered out from a pulley in the mast head, or from a block lashed to it, to as great a length as the situation requires. From about seventy to a hundred and fifty yards may suffice, though in very shoal water mixed with deeps, or where the ground is foul, even a greater length may be requisite.
The ghoon, about two inches round, is made of white rope well laid. If made of tarred rope, it would be too heavy and oppose great resistance, by its want of elasticity, to the exertions of the dandies. Each of these, fixing the end of his cord to the ghoon, and resting the bamboo club over his shoulder so that it may act in some measure as a lever, proceeds at an easy pace, his body leaning well forward, each following at about four feet behind the other. The foremost at the track-rope has a great advantage over his followers, not being subject to the numerous checks and vibrations occasioned by the frequent impediments, whether bushes, banks, masts of other vessels, &c., which operate very forcibly [] on those whose cords are attached to that part of the rope in his rear.
The number of dandies at a track-rope may be too many, as well as too few, except when a boat can keep close to the shore, and the ghoon makes but a very small angle from the line of her progress. Then, all the power which can be given certainly proves efficient; but when the angle between the boat's direction and the rope becomes considerable, it is evident the whole labour falls on a very few of the leading dandies. In fact, all but those few are then compelled to liberate their cords from the ghoon, otherwise they must be inevitably dragged out into the stream, unless those cords were many fathoms in length, instead of only four or five feet.
The greater part of the trading boats use a different apparatus for tracking. In them, each dandy is supplied with a cord about as thick as a swan's quill, made of a fine long grass called moonje, which, when wetted and twisted into this kind of tackle, becomes firm and elastic; though it will not answer for cordage in general. He has also about seventy yards of line, the inner end of which fastens to a stout rope, reeved, the same as the ghoon, at the mast-head, and long enough to be let out amply where requisite.
The other end of the line is coiled up by each dandy respectively, who fastens his bamboo club by its cord, at such part of the moonje line as may be let out. A small quantity of coil is generally reserved, which hangs down either over each dandy's breast or shoulder. By this means, each man tracks separately, and cannot be idle without instant detection by the manjy. The several lines form so many rays from the mast-head, and are capable, when equally strained, to bear an immense burthen.
[] It is very unpleasant to pass a ghaut where numbers of boats are lying. A man is sent up to the mast-head of each, in succession, for the purpose of passing the ghoon; which, when liberated from one, swings on to another, causing a severe shock to the hinder dandy of the tracking party. Some use a very simple device for passing the ghoon over their mast-heads. It consists merely of a kind of fork, made by tying the end of the ghoon of each vessel respectively, when at rest, to a long bamboo, about a quarter of a length down. The ghoon being pulled, the bamboo is raised, and carries with it that of the boat in motion, a man slipping the latter over the mast-head with great facility.
It is not always that people on board boats lying at ghauts, will turn out to pass the ghoon; on which occasions, words are rarely of much avail. A pellet-bow, which sends clay-balls to about a hundred yards distance with considerable force, has been known to produce an instantaneous effect. The first shot rattling against the matted sides of a vessel's interior, rarely fails to cause wondrous activity on the part of her crew; though now and then, to produce the desired effect, it has been necessary to repeat the operation.
All gentlemen travelling by water, should compel the manjies of their several boats to carry at their mast-heads a small flag, of some obvious distinction. This prevents them from lying to, and concealing their vessels amidst a forest of masts, as they are apt to do, when intent upon a clandestine trading voyage. Besides, as in the course of a day's tracking, and especially when sailing, it is very common for a budjrow to get many miles ahead, such a device then becomes a guide as to the propriety of coming to for the night or, intermediately, for dinner &c.
The number of miles which can be run over in the [] course of a day in a budjrow, will necessarily vary according to circumstances, the quantity of water in the river, the direction and force of the wind, and the competency of the crew. According to the well-informed and accurate Major Rennell, "from the beginning of November to the middle or latter end of May, the usual rate of going with the stream is forty miles in a day of twelve hours; and during the rest of the year, from fifty to seventy miles. The current is strongest while the waters of the inundation are draining off; which happens, in part, in August and September."
It has been remarked that the rivers generally rise a few inches in May; which is to be attributed to the melting of the snow on those hills where the Ganges and Berampooter have their source. Both those rivers, which have their rise at the base, but on opposite sides, of the same mountain, and after separating to full twelve hundred miles asunder, unite and form that immense volume of water called the Megna, receive a supply from the same quarter, and at the same time. We cannot, however, expect that the force of their currents should be much increased before the rains are fairly set in. This may be, generally, about the 10th of June, when their waters, indeed, roll so impetuously that many a boat has proceeded from Patna to Monghyr, a distance of one hundred measured miles by laud, and full one hundred and twenty by water, between daybreak and sunset.
Major Rennell adds, "Seventeen to twenty miles a day, according to the ground, and the number of impediments, is the greatest distance that a large budjrow can be towed against the stream during the fair season; and to accomplish this, the boat must be drawn through the water at the rate of four miles and a half per hour, for twelve hours. When the waters are high, a greater [] progress will be made, notwithstanding the increased velocity of the current; because the filling of the riverbed gives many opportunities of cutting off angles and turnings, and sometimes even large windings, by going through creeks. As the wind at this season blows upwards (against the current) in most of the rivers, opportunities of using the sail frequently occur."
It must not, however, be supposed that the boat actually makes a progress of four miles and a half within the hour; for the dandies rarely walk more than two miles in that time; but the velocity of the current being taken into account, it would show that if a log were to be heaved, the difference between the log and the boat's advance would give the result alluded to by the Major, whose general correctness cannot be too much admired.
In using the sail, there are various changes; being sometimes full, then again close-hauled, and perhaps ultimately, lowered on a sudden, as the course of the river may change; and this perhaps twenty or thirty times within the day. Yet when the reaches lie tolerably fair, as sometimes happens for a whole day together, and the wind is brisk ih favour, a budjrow will run off from four to six miles within the hour. The river is often so low as to render navigation very tedious, even under all the above favourable circumstances, the manjy being forced to abide by the strong deep waters, and to wind in among the sands, which cause the channel very frequently to change its direction.
During the rains, and especially in the cold months, travelling by water is extremely pleasant, if with the stream; but whatever facilities may be afforded in any shape, a trip upwards, at whatever season, can afford little gratification. What with tracking, getting aground, remaining long among eddies in which human carcases [] are floating in all the various stages of putrefaction, the dust flying, &c., &c., nothing but ennui or impatience can reasonably be expected.
Here and there a walk may be taken; but he who ventures ashore must be watchful to embark before the budjrow may be obliged to put far out for the purpose of passing some endless shallow. Otherwise, he may have to walk under a vertical sun, through bushes, or over ploughed or muddy lands, and among ravines, for many an hour before the opportunity may offer for getting on board. To crown the whole, he may perhaps come to some nullah, or small stream, over which no conveyance is to be had, either by bridge or boat.
A zeal for bringing home a few birds or a hare has often decoyed a traveller into scrapes of this kind, and caused him to utter many an imprecation against the river for winding, the manjy for going on, and his own folly for subjecting himself to such unpleasant circumstances.
The navigation of the large rivers is the most hazardous. When it is considered that the Ganges runs for upwards of a thousand miles through a country nearly level, and whose undulations are scarcely perceptible except in a few places where the hills come down to the water's edge, as at Sickregully, Pointee, Colgong, Chunar, &c., it must appear obvious that but little shelter can be expected from these squalls called north-westers, which from the end of February till the setting in of the rains, occur almost daily, and blow with considerable violence. Even when under a high bank, it will require much care, and good tackle, to prevent a budjrow from being blown out into the middle, where if top-heavy, as is too often the case, and the proper means be not taken to keep her head to the wind, she will stand a chance of being overset.
[] Fortunately the approach of a squall is always strongly indicated by a black appearance above the horizon, and by distant lightnings. When these are sufficiently characterized to leave little doubt of the storm's passing that way, shelter should be sought in some creek, or under some high bank of firm appearance. There the budjrow should be well secured by carrying out hawsers, made fast to substantial stakes driven into the ground by means of large malls, with all which every boat should be amply provided. Luggies (or bamboo-poles) ought to be carried out on the lee-side, to resist the wind, and cause the upper parts of the vessel to bear up duly against the severe gusts which commonly usher in the gale.
If the vessel is on a lee-shore, the luggies must, of course, be between her and the bank, to prevent her from bumping against it, and the anchor should be carried out to windward, into deep water, to keep her from being forced ashore. This danger is particularly to be apprehended on long shelving sands, where many a well-conditioned boat has had her bottom beaten out by the force with which the surges, coming across an expanse of perhaps a mile or more, have dashed her against the hard sand.
Such situations are peculiarly hazardous, and ought to be most
avoided. The misfortune is that from eagerness to get forward, and from
the hope that a northwester may be either moderate or pass another way,
people in general keep pushing on, and allow many a secure asylum to be
passed very imprudently. Those who have experienced the effects of a
squall about Sheerness, may be proper judges of what is to be expected
from a most furious gale, often continuing for an hour or more, in a
which may be said generally to flow between banks full two miles
and which [] are, in most parts, from three to five, in some, full
seven miles apart.
As to rewards, little good is to be expected from them; the system adopted by the marauders is such as to render abortive any lures of that description. Where all participate, all will be found faithful to the cause, whether virtue or vice be the leader; and where localities are such as to afford perfect security from the common run of pursuers, and numbers render the association too formidable to admit any hope of success on the part of small detachments -- in such instances rewards can rarely produce the smallest benefit.
Wherever a boat, or even a fleet, comes to for the night, it is indispensable to keep a sharp look-out against thieves, who from the several villages in the neighbourhood rarely fail to assemble during the night, under some bold chief, and to make an attempt to plunder by main force. It is scarcely credible to what a height this daring species [] of robbery has been sometimes carried. Were there no other occasion, this would be an ample cause for obtaining, if possible, a guard of sepoys, for the purpose of protecting the boats; but strange to say, the villagers sometimes refuse, unless compelled, to sell their poultry, &c. to passengers, both by land and by water, though not only a liberal, but an exorbitant remuneration has been offered.
This does not proceed from unwillingness to gain money, nor to
the article in question, but merely from a spirit of opposition which
a large portion of the native population, who are often too adverse to
contribute to the comfort, or more properly to the existence, of
not that the natives of India are so debased, immoral, or vindictive,
they have been sometimes represented.
Every gentleman proceeding by land, from one station to another, should obtain a small guard of a naik, and four, or even two, sepoys, whose presence will generally prove a considerable check on the adventurous disposition of the villagers in that quarter. This precaution alone will not, however, be sufficient. Application should be made to the jemmadar, or head-borough, of each village where the party may encamp, for a certain number of chuokeedars (watchmen) proportioned to the number of tents, horses, &c.; and the whole of the property of every description should be nominally put under the charge of the men thus furnished, observing that the regular pay, which may be from four to six pice, or halfpence, for each, should be punctually paid to the jemmadar when the camp breaks up the next morning and every item is found to be in a state of safety.
When coolies (porters) are wanted, to carry the beds, tables, &c. of a party, application should be made in like manner to the jemmadar. When, at the next stage, these [] are discharged, it will be proper to be attentive to the regular payment of every individual thus furnished. Otherwise, the servants to whom it may be entrusted to discharge them will generally withhold a large portion, or even the whole, of what has been ordered.
By this regular attention to these matters, the villagers will come forward with more alacrity; though it must he confessed they are generally very unwilling to engage as coolies. Nor is this surprising, since the jemmadars generally on such occasions extort from them at least half their earnings. The evil, as matters now stand, being incurable, must be borne as gracefully as the feelings will allow, content with the reflection of doing justice ourselves, though we know for certain that our liberality, in the end, flows into a wrong channel.
When practicable, it is highly expedient to obtain from the European collector's office, or even from any of the natives under his immediate authority who may be deputed to, or resident at, such places as lie near the road, a rhahwaunah, or passport. In this it should be set forth that whatever necessaries, or coolies, or chuokeedars, or dowraws (guides) may be requisite, should be furnished by the jemmadars of villages who are called upon for such supplies. This always ensures respect and attention, and causes all the persons addressed to be vigilant in the discharge of their duties, lest complaints should be preferred to the collector, who would speedily summon them to his court, and punish them in a suitable manner.
Thieves, whether housebreakers, or collectors on the highways, however audacious, very rarely make an immediate attack on Europeans. This, no doubt, proceeds from their sense of the importance attached to the safety of our countrymen, the murderer of whom would be assuredly detected, and suffer the full sentence of the law. Besides, [] all the people of Hindoostan know that, except watches, which for want of pawnbrokers and accomplices skilled in the melting of metals are of no use to the robber, Europeans never travel with any valuables. No gentleman ever carries money about him; though his servants may have in their waists a few rupees, for such disbursements as cannot be delayed without inconvenience.
Hence, the boxes, &c., of gentlemen are generally aimed at, because the cash and valuables are contained in them. For the same reason, the most confidential servants are most commonly objects of attack. Your true Hindoostanee robber is, in general, very active, robust, and capable of great deception. He will patrol about a tent, during a dark night, like a dog or a jackal, the howl of which he can imitate so as to deceive the sentries and throw them completely off their guard.
If allowed to approach a tent, he will select that side where several servants are asleep under the fly, or awning, and gradually insinuate himself into the interior, either by passing under the walls or between the overlaps. If he cannot easily effect this, he draws his choory (knife), which is sharpened for the occasion, and makes a slit in the cloth or canvas large enough to pass his body through. Then, in the most cautious manner, and retaining his breath as much as possible, he gropes about for those articles which, during the day-time, he had seen deposited in some particular part of the tent; and after making an opening large enough for his purpose, or by opening one of the doors, he watches the opportunity to escape with his booty.
The attempt to seize a thief under such circumstances is extremely hazardous, and should be strongly reprehended. Being perfectly naked, and having the body highly lubricated with oil, it is impossible to grasp him [] in any part; while on the other hand, he must be expected to use his knife very freely, under the determination of escaping.
A curious circumstance happened in 1783, at Bankypore. The tent of a staff-officer was entered, during the night, by a fellow of this description, who, it being moonlight, and one part of the tent only closed by a cheek, was discovered by the gentleman as he lay in bed. Seeing his property in danger, he sprang up to disengage a hog-spear that was tied up to that pole of the marquee which was nearest the bed; but the thief got the start of him by seizing the officer's sword, which was suspended by a hook that buckled on to the other pole. The adventurer being thus armed, prevented the gentleman from getting possession of the spear. After one or two menacing flourishes, he darted out of the tent, sword in hand, and was speedily beyond the reach of pursuit.
Another very ludicrous circumstance occurred some years antecedent to the above. A gentleman who inhabited a small bungalow on the banks of a river, and who was very ill of that complaint of the liver, for which he was under a course of mercury, perceived in the dusk of the evening, a thief prowling about the apartment in which he was sitting. The fellow was extremely industrious, and threw a number of articles, not even sparing the bed-linen, out at a window that stood open. The gentleman affected to take no notice, but resolved, when the thief should follow his booty, to take him by surprise, while in the act of collecting them from under the window.
This was by no means an imprudent resolution, as it appeared probable that the rogue might be secured, and the property recovered. At length, after having thrown out whatever was convenient to his purpose, and having peeped out of the window, the thief made suddenly towards [] the gentleman, and snatched from his head a beautiful shawl, with which he skipped out of the window.
This feat demanded instant action; the gentleman called lustily for his servants, who, awaking from their slumbers, ran to obey the vociferated summons, and were just in time to see a small dingy (boat) pulling away to the opposite bank, with the goods, the thief, and his accomplices on board.
All who travel by land should be on their guard never to allow jugglers or show-men of whatever description to enter their tents, which they will endeavour to do, under pretence of shewing off their mummeries, with the intention of ascertaining the posture of whatever moveables may be within. In this, they are sometimes mistaken; it being usual to have all boxes, camp-baskets, &c., assembled about the foot of the tent-pole at night, and to secure them by means of a chain passing through their respective handles, &c., the ends of the chain being furnished with a padlock.
In fair weather, the safest mode is to have all the things removed out of the tent and placed in a heap, under charge of a sentry, who then need pay little attention to any other object, as the thieves are most intent on those trunks, &c., which they suppose to contain money, plate, &c. As to articles of apparel, they are of little value, and would probably lead to discovery. The handles of swords, and breast-plates of officers, being generally of solid silver, may be reckoned among the first desiderata, and should be placed in a state of security.
As to the discovery of robbers, they have no such dread as prevails among thieves in Europe. In India, whole villages are inhabited by thieves, who keep the country around in a state of perpetual terror and of vigilance. Hence, when a jemmadar furnishes chuokeedars, he often [] does it with great reluctance, being apprehensive of a visit from some neighbouring gang of notoriety, who act with greater confidence because the village at which the robbery takes place will be accountable for whatever property is stolen.
Hence, a party is always safest when encamped near a village of professed thieves. These will commonly forbear to depredate under that circumstance; conscious that the value put upon the several articles stolen, though not in the least overrated, must be full tenfold their value to the robbers.
It must be observed, that in order to render the claim to remuneration clear and decisive, a requisition should have been made to the jemmadar for chuokeedars. It may otherwise be argued that the property was not under his protection. Sometimes, by way of cavil, a jemmadar of such a description will find fault with the position of an encampment, and use many pleas for the purpose of raising objections, whenever the losses sustained are laid before the collector, or judge, of the district. If, however, he should refuse to grant chuokeedars, it will be necessary to keep a very sharp look-out; this being a strong indication of intended mischief.
Almost every jemmadar of character will reprobate the
of that kind of curiosity which leads gentlemen, on their first
to pay the smallest attention to the performances of mountebanks,
puppet-showmen, &c. These are all notorious thieves, and are
by numerous confederates who patrol about under the semblance of
come to view the camp. Thus they take advantage of any opportunities,
consequence of servants, &c., quitting their several charges to
the exhibitions of the attractive portion of the gang.
The passing a sword-blade, about two feet long and two inches in breadth, down the gullet, so as to be distinctly felt by the application of a hand to the operator's stomach, is certainly the most extraordinary part of the exhibition. In this there is no deception. The sword is entire, and firmly fixed to the handle; while its solidity is such as to remove all doubt respecting pliancy or evasion in any mode. All we can say of it is that the practice is adopted at an early age; and that the implement used is gradually increased, from a small rattan to that above described.
As to vaulting, the number of somersets and capers made with seeming facility, while bounding over the backs of elephants, or of camels placed side-by-side, is truly astonishing. Throwing spears at each other, and catching them under the arms, while in the act of mission, mutually, cannot but cause both dread and surprise. The accuracy with which this is constantly done, seems to preclude all admiration at the skill of the celebrated William Tell.
Jumping through a frame which supports several, perhaps [] a dozen, tulwars (cutlasses), of which the edges are remarkably sharp, and which appear to preclude the passage of a man's body through the little interval left among their points, must be viewed with admiration. Such must be felt, seeing the running bare-foot along a piece of cloth, perhaps ten yards in length, supported, at about a foot from the ground, by several men, each of whom holds, under the cloth, a sharp tulwar, of which the edge is turned upwards. The astonishing agility with which this is performed, absolutely requires to be seen to be duly appreciated.
Some curious performances in balancing are worthy of notice. Of these, the stringing and unstringing of eggs is perhaps the most extraordinary. A man balances on his head a kind of platter, of rather a conical form (inverted), and projecting perhaps six inches every way. It is furnished all around with draw-loops of perhaps a foot in length, and about two inches asunder: their whole number amounting to twenty or more. On his left arm he bears a basket, containing as many eggs as there are loops attached to the platter.
Using one foot for a pivot, he keeps moving round by the aid of the other, so as to make about ten revolutions in a minute. While in motion, he successively takes the eggs from the basket, and, with his right hand only, puts each into a loop, drawing it tight, so as to retain the egg firmly in an equipoised state.
In this manner he strings all the eggs, and again, always moving the same way, unstrings and replaces them in the basket. When the whole are strung, the music quickens its time considerably, and the operator, conforming to the change, accelerates his pace in proportion, till the velocity acquired by the eggs is such, as to occasion their whirling on a level with the platter.
[] This appears to be the most arduous of all the exercises, in that branch which depends principally on delicacy and caution. If we consider the many chances of failure, from a slip of the foot, a want of attention to the due elevation of the elbow, the aptness of the unemployed loops to become entangled, the giddiness to be apprehended from so quickly turning full half an hour, always the same way, and the possibility of allowing a newly-laden loop to fall too suddenly into its place, and the hazard in withdrawing it, when about to take out the egg; all these are certainly points very difficult to compass, or to avoid, and entitle the artist to unlimitted approbation.
In Cordiner's Description of Ceylon, some feats of the jugglers in that island are noticed as being beyond comparison; but can anything be conceived more dexterous than that operation so common in Bengal, of balancing a bamboo ladder about fifteen feet long on a man's chin, and allowing a well-grown lad, or a young woman, to ascend to the summit by winding in and out between the steps (which barely admit the body to pass), and ultimately to descend head foremost in the same manner, after balancing horizontally with extended arms and legs, on either standard of the ladder? "I have often wondered," says Captain Williamson, who had witnessed these extraordinary feats, "what the man's chin could be made of."
"Swarming up a stout bamboo pole," he adds, "full twenty feet long, balanced on a man's hip, or shoulder, and descending again, by first attaching to the summit by the toes, and measuring a whole length downwards, the back being against the bamboo; then turning the opposite way, and thus in alternate succession, always appeared to me equally dangerous and astonishing. To perform [] this, a man must possess unconscionable strength in his toes and ankles: the first slip would infallibly be the last."
The puppet-shows called kaut-pootlies (wooden infants) are certainly superior to Mr. Punch and his wife, as exhibited throughout England. In India, there is to be seen far greater variety, both in the subject and in the several dramatis personae. There, something like a regular piece is represented, and it rarely requires a glossary, or interpreter, to define the several scenes.
The kaut-pootly-wallah, or puppet-dancer, does not confine himself to a small sentry-box-like theatre. On the contrary, when he is to display before any respectable persons, he makes a point of paying his respects during the day, and of soliciting the loan of either a small tent, a konaut, a satrinje, or some such article, for the purpose of enclosing and covering in the necessary space, so that he and his coadjutors may prepare their parts in secrecy. It is commonly contrived that the performance be by candlelight, and at some little distance from the line of tents.
This is almost a sine qua non with this tribe, who, being in league with rogues of all descriptions, rarely fail to profit by the absence of servants from the charge of their masters' property, and while perhaps both master and man are grinning at the objects presented on the proscenium, are employed in removing from the tents whatever articles of a portable description may be exposed to depredation. Sometimes the farce is concluded by a shower of clods, &c. thrown from a distance, and the whole fly in confusion.
Among the itinerant amusements of India are the feats of the nuts, or tumblers, a people totally distinct from all the other inhabitants of the country, and corresponding [] in a number of instances, with the gypsies of Europe.
That cast, or tribe, of nuts, known by the name of bau-zeegurs, generally affect to follow the Mahomedan faith; but the purneah peeries, or budeea tribe, follow either that or the doctrines of Brahma, just as may suit their purposes or their locality. Either sect have so few religious ceremonies, as to render it doubtful whether they profess more than may serve to screen them from the imputation of atheism;/1/ a charge which would sink them even lower in the estimation of every inhabitant of Asia.
They inter their relations in a very slovenly manner, and are often found lying drunk about the grave. Their marriage forms are extremely simple. The bride and bridegroom mutually mark each other's faces with red ochre, after which they lock their little fingers together, and avow their union.
The nuts never go to law, nor submit their differences to any arbitrators, except of their own profession. From the extreme jealousy of the men, and the frequent excesses of both sexes in the use of gaunjah and other intoxicating draughts, such differences are by no means rare; and they contribute partly to the support of their rulers, who receive a fourth part of whatever is earned, or perhaps begged, borrowed, or stolen, by the several sets, which ramble over the country, either by order, or according to their own fancies.
Such regular debauchery, added to violent exercise during their early years, reduce the period of life among these people to a very short compass. Few live beyond the age of forty, and by far the larger portion die before [] their thirtieth year. The women generally fall victims after having borne four or five children.
On their dancing, a part of the duties of a female nut,
encomium cannot be bestowed. Their style of performance is vulgar, and
they generally study that kind of display which renders their
too indelicate to be described. Tumbling head-over-heels, &c.,
all come within the exhibition afforded for a trifling gratuity.
Those composing the taffah, or set of female dancers, are chiefly either attached by family connexions, such as marriage, with the oostauds and surmaunjahs, who are the instructors and musicians; or slaves obtained by purchase, during times of scarcity. Some, indeed, are kidnapped when very young, on account of their promising features. These are rarely able to give any account of their parentage, and do not always know the districts in which they were born.
Whatever their origin or connexion, the dancers, who are likewise vocal performers, are entirely subservient to some person, whether male or female, who is considered as the proprietor of the set, and on whose application to any court of law, or soubuh, or person in power, any runaway is immediately pursued, and restored to the taffah. This occurs, whether the obligation to service be peremptory, as in the case of a baundy, or actual slave; or merely implied, as in the case of a paulah, or person preserved from famine, &c., and reared in the capacity of a menial.
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/1/ See a paper in
Researches by Col. Richardson.