Through the Cossitollah Kaleidoscope
Under my window, in the street called Cossitollah, flows all the motliness of a Calcutta thoroughfare in two counter-setting currents; --one Chowriagee-ward, in the direction of Nabob magnificence and grace; the other toward the Cooly squalor and deformity of the Radda Bazaar; --and as, in the glare of the early forenoon sun, the shadows of the hither or thither passing throngs fall straight across the way, from the Parsee's godown, over against me, to the gate of the pucca house wherein my look-out is, I watch with interest the frequent eddies occasioned by the clear-steerings of caste, --Brahmin, Warrior, and Merchant keeping severely to the Parsee side, so that the foul shadow of Soodra or Pariah may not pollute their sacred persons. It is as though my window were a tower of Allahabad, and below me, in Cossitollah, were the shy meeting of the waters. Thus, looking up or down, I mark how the limpid Jumna of high caste holds its way in a common bed, but never mingling with the turbid Ganges of an unclean rabble.
Reader, should you ever "do" the City of Palaces, permit me to commend with especial emphasis to your consideration this same Cossitollah, as a representative street, wherein the European and Asiatic elements of the Calcutta panorama are mingled in the most picturesque proportions; for Cossitollah is the link that most directly joins the pitiful benightedness of the Black Town to the imposing splendors of Kumpnee Bahadoor, --the short, but stubborn chain of responsibility, as it were, whereby the ball of helpless and infatuated stock-and-stone-worship is fastened to the leg of British enlightenment and accountability.
From the Midaun, or Parade Ground, with its long-drawn arrays of Sepoy chivalry, its grand reviews before the Burra Lard Sahib, (as in domestic Bengalee we designate the Governor-General,) its solemn sham battles, and its welkin-rending regimental bands, by whose brass and sheepskin God saves the Queen twice a day; from Government House, with its historic pride, pomp, and circumstance, and its red tape, its aides-de-camp, and its adjutant-birds, its stirring associations, and its stupid architecture; from the pensioned aristocracy of Chowringhee the Magnificent; from the carnival concourse of the Esplanade, with its kaleidoscopic surprises; from the grim patronage of Fort William, with its in-every-department well-regulated fee-faw-fum; in fine, from Clive, and Hastings, and Wellington, and Gough, and Hardinge, and Napier, and Bentinck, and Ellenborough, and Dalhousie, and all the John Company that has come of them; from the tremendous and overwhelming SAHIB, to that most profoundly abject of human objects, the Hindoo PARIAH, (who approaches thee, O Awful Being! O Benign Protector of the Poor! O Writer in the Salt-and-Opium Office! on his hands and knees, and with a wisp of grass in his mouth, to denote that he is thy beast,) --from all those to this, the shortest cut is through Cossitollah.
And so, in the current of its passengers, partaking the characteristics of its contrasted extremities, fantastically blending the purple and fine linen of Chowringhee with the breech-cloths of the Black Town, Cossitollah is, as I have said, preëminently the type street of Calcutta. Other localities have their peculiar throngs, and certain classes and castes are proper to certain thoroughfares; --Sepoys and dogboys to the Midaun; circars or clerks, and chowkeydars or private police, to Tank Square; a world of pampered women, fat civil servants, coachmen, ayahs or nurses, durwans or doorkeepers, chaprasseys or messengers, kitmudgars or waiters, to Garden Reach; palanquin-bearers, the smaller fry of banyans or shopkeepers, and dandees or boatmen, to the Ghauts; together with no end of coolies, and bheestees or water-carriers, horse-dealers, and syces or grooms, to Durumtollah; sailors, British and American, Malay and Lascar, to Flag Street, the quarter of punch-houses; --but in Cossitollah all castes and vocations are met, whether their talk be of gold mohurs or cowries; here the Sahib gives the horrid leper a wide berth, and the Baboo walks carefully round the shadow of Mehtur, the sweeper. Therefore, reader, Cossitollah is by all means the street for you to draw profound conclusions from.
Come, let us sit in the window and observe; it is but forty puffs of a No. 3 cheroot, in a lazy palanquin, from one end of Cossitollah to the other; and from our window, though not exactly midway, but nearer the Bazaar, we can see from Flag Street wellnigh to the Midaun.
What is this? A close palkee, with a passenger; the bearers, with elbows sharply crooked, and calves all varicose, trotting to a monotonous, jerking ditty, which the sirdar, or leader, is impudently improvising, to the refrain of Putterum, ("Easy now!") at the expense of their fare's amour-propre.
"Out of the way there!And the four consummate knaves do set down the palkee, and shift the pads on their shoulders; while the sirdar slips round to the sliding-door, and timidly intruding his sweaty phiz, at an opening sufficiently narrow to guard his nose against assault from within, but wide enough to give us a glimpse, through an out-bursting cloud of cheroot-smoke, of a pair of stout legs encased in white duck, with the neatest of light pumps at the end of them, says:--
"Buksheesh do, Sahib! buksheesh do! O favorite slave of the Lord! O tender shepherd of the poor! O sublime and beautiful Being, upon whose turban Prosperity dances and Peace makes her bed! Whose mother is twin-sister to the Sacred Cow, and whose grandmother is the Lotos of Seven Virtues! O Khodabund! buksheesh do! Bestow upon thy abject and self-despising slave wherewithal to commemorate the golden hour when, by a blessed dispensation, he was permitted to lay his trembling forehead against thy victorious feet!"
"Jou-jehennum, toom sooa! --Go to Gehenna, you pig! What are you bothering about, with your 'boxes,' 'boxes,' nothing but 'boxes'? Insatiable brutes! Jou! I tell you, --jeldie jou! or by Doorga, the goddess of awful rows, I'll smash the palkee and outrage all your religious prejudices! Jou!"
Evidently our varicose friends imagine they have caught a Tartar, and that the white ducks are not so recent an importation as they at first supposed; for now they catch up the pole of the palkee nimbly, and jou jeldie (that is, trot up smartly) to quite another song.
"Jeldie jou, jeldie!"And so they have turned down Flag Street.
But what now? Here is something more imposing, --a chariot-and-four, --four spanking Arabs in gold-mounted trappings, --a fat and elaborate coachman, very solemn, --two tall hurkarus, or avant-couriers, supporting the box, one on either side, with studied symmetry, like Siva and Vishnu upholding the throne of Brahma, --four syces running at the horses' heads, each with his chowree, or fly-flapper, made from the tail of the Thibet cow, --a fifth before, to clear the way, --a basket of Simpkin, which is as though one should say Champagne, behind, and our own banyan, our man of contracts and ready lakhs, that shrewd broker and substantial banker, the Baboo Kalidas Ramaya Mullick, on the back seat.
"Hi! Cliattak-wallah! Bheestee! --Hi! hi! --You chap with the umbrella, you fellow with the water, clear the way! This Baboo comes, this Baboo rides, --he stops not, he stays not, --he is rich, he is honored. Shall a pig impede him? Shall a pig delay him? Jump, sooa. Jump!"
And thus, amid much vociferation, and unceremonious dispersing of the common herd, who dodge with practised agility right and left, the fat and elaborate coachman pulls up the spanking Arabs at our godown gate, and the Baboo alights with the air of a gentleman of thirty lacs, to the manner born; to him all this outcry is but Mamoul, --usage, custom, --and Mamoul is to him as air.
As the Baboo steps through the wide swinging gate and enters the place that owns him master, let us mark his reception. The durwan first, --our grenadier doorkeeper, the man of proud port and commanding presence, to whom that portal is a post of honor, --our Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, in one, of courage, strength, and address enlisted with fidelity. The loyalty of Ramee Durwan is threefold, in this order: first, to his caste, next, to his beard, and then to his post; only for the two first would he abandon the last; his life he holds of less account than either.
As the Baboo passes, Ramee Durwan, you think, will be ready with profound and obsequious salaam. Not so; he draws himself up to the very last of his extraordinary inches, and touches his forehead lightly with the fingers of his right hand, only slightly inclining his head, --a not more than affable salute, --almost with a quality of concession, --gracious as well as graceful; he would do as much for any puppy of a cadet who might drop in on the Sahib. On the other hand, lowly louteth the Baboo, with eyes downcast and palm applied reverentially to his sleek forehead.
How now? This Baboo is a banyan of solid substance, and the Mullicks all are citizens of credit and renown; while Ramee Durwan gets five rupees a month, and makes his bed at the gate. Last year, they say, when little Dwarkanath Mullick, the Baboo's adopted son, nine years old, was married to the tender child Vinda, old Lulla Seal's darling, on her fifth birthday, the Baboo Kalidas Raniaya Mullick made the occasion famous by liberating fifty prisoners-for-debt, of the Soodra sort, with as many flourishes of his illustrious signature. Ramee Durwan has not a change of turbans.
And now the Baboo passes into the godown, and receives from a score of servile cicars, glibbest of clerks, their several reports of the day's business. Presently, from his low desk, in the lowliest corner, uprises, and comes forward quietly, Mutty Loll Roy, the head circar, venerable, placid, pensive, every way interesting; but he is only the Baboo's head circar, an humble accountant, on fifteen rupees a month. Do you perceive that fact in the style of his salutation? Hardly; for the Baboo piously raises his joined hands high above his head, and, louting lower than before, murmurs the Orthodox salutation, Namaskarum! Yet the Baboo contributed two thousand rupees in fireworks to the last Doorga Fooja, and sent a hundred goats to the altar; while only with many and trying shifts of saving could Mutty Loll afford gold leaf for one image, besides two tomtoms and a horn to march before it in procession. But behold the lordly beneficence in Mutty Loll'a attitude and gesture, as with outstretched hands, palms upward, he greets the Baboo condescendingly with a gift of goodwill!
"Idhur ano, Sirdar, idhur ano! --Come hither, Karlee, my gentle bearer, thou of the good heart and gray moustache! Come hither, and enlighten this Sahib's ignorance; tell him why the Durwan is disdainful, as toward the Baboo, and the Circar solemn."
"Man, Sahib! That Durwan Ksutriye, Soldier caste, Rider caste, --feest-i-rat-i-man (first-rate man); that Durwan have got Rajpoot blood, ver-iproud, all same Sahib. Baboo, Merchant caste, --ver-i-good caste, plenty rich, but not so proud Durwan caste; Baboo not have Rajpoot blood, not have i-sharp i-sword, not have musiket. Durwan arm all same tiger; Durwan beard all same lion; Durwan plenty i-strong, plenty proud.
"That Circar, --ah! that Mutty Loll, too, high caste; that Circar Brahmin, --Kooleen Brahmin, --all same Swamy (god); that Circar foot all same Baboo head; that Circar shoe all same Baboo turban. 'Spose Baboo not make that Circar bhote-btote salaam, that Circar say curse, that Circar ispeak jou-jehannam (go to hell). Master und-istand i-me? I ispeak Master so Master know?"
"Very clear, Karlee, --and wholesome expounding. But here comes the Baboo to speak for himself. --Good-day, Baboo! Whither so fast with the spanking Arabs and the Simpkin? --to the garden-house?"
"To the garden-house, Sahib; and the Simpkin is for two young English friends of mine, who will do the garden-house the honor to make it their own for a day or two."
"Take care, Baboo! take care! I have my doubts as to the Simpkin. They do say the orthodoxy of 'Young Bengal' men is none the better for beefsteaks and Heidseck; such diet does not become the son of a strict and straightgoing heathen. Well may the Brahmins groan for the glaring scandals of the new lights; you'll be marrying widows next, and dining at clubs with fast ensigns."
"Sahib, Caste is God, and Mamoul is his prophet. The church of the Churruck post and the orgies of Hooly are in no danger from beef or Simpkin so long as steak or bottle costs a man his inheritance; and we of Young Bengal know too well how hard are the ways of the Pariah to try them for fun. Caste is God, and Mamoul is his prophet. The 'glad tidings of great joy' your missionaries bring fall upon ears stopped with family pride and the family jewels: you know that appropriate old saw in our proverbial philosophy, 'What is the news of the day to a frog in a well?'-- Salaam, Sahib! I have but a few minutes to spare, and the supercargo is waiting with the indigo samples."
Presently, as the Cossitollah panorama flows on beneath our window, with all its bizarreness from the bazaars, --its boxwallahs, and its pawn-makers, its peddlers of toys, its money-changers and shopmen, its basket-makers and mat-weavers and chattah-menders, its perambulating cobblers and tailors, its jugglers, gymnasts, and natch-girls, --its fellows who feed on glass bottles for the astonishment and delectation of the Sahibs, or who, if you have such a thing as a sheep about you, will undertake to slaughter and skin it with their teeth and devour it on the spot, --its conjure-wallahs, who, for a few pice, will run sharp foils through each other's bodies without for a moment disturbing either health or cheerfulness, or will make mangoes grow under table-cloths, "all fair and proper," while Master waits, --as the Brahmin still dodges the shadow of the Soodra, and the Soodra spits upon the footprint of the Pariah, the Baboo returns to his chariot; the fat and solemn coachman gathers up the reins, the hurkarus assume their symmetrical attitudes on the box, the syces bawl, and the socas jump.
Just now a palkee-gharree, cheapest of one-horse vehicles, with but one half-naked syce running at the pony's head, and never a footman near, passes the spanking Arabs; the plain turban of a respectable accountant in the Honorable Company's coal office at Garden Reach shows between the Venetian slats of the little window, and lo! our fine Baboo steps out of his slippers, and standing barefoot in the common dust of Cossitollah, --dust that has been churned by all the pigs'-feet that ply that promiscuous thoroughfare, --humbly touches first the vulgar ground and then his elegant turban, murmuring a pious Namaskarum; for the respectable accountant in the Honorable Company's coal office is, like Mutty Loll, a Kooleen Brahmin, --only a little more so. Caste is God, and Mamoul is his prophet!
At the gate-lodge of the Baboo's garden-house on the Durumtollah Road, a gray and withered hag, all crippled and leprosied, sits durhna.
What may that be?
Be patient; you shall know.
When the Baboo was as yet a youth, his uncle Rajinda, the pride of the Mullicks, died of cholera, and the administration of the estate devolved upon our free-thinking Kalidas. Of course there were mortgages to foreclose, and delinquent debtors to stir up. A certain small shopkeeper of the China Bazaar was responsible to the concern for a few thousand rupees, wherewith he had been accommodated by Uncle Rajinda as a basis for certain operations in seersuckers and castor-oil, that had yielded no returns. So our Baboo, in a curt chit, (that is, note, or sheet of paper, as near as a Bengalee can come to the word,) bade the small speculator of China Bazaar come down forthwith with the rupees.
But, behold you now, "he had paid," he said. "By the Holy Ganges and the Blessed Cow! by the turban of his father and the veil of his mother! restitution had been made long ago," the old man said; "and the soul of Uncle Rajinda, the pride of the Mullicks, had no reason to be disquieted for the rupees, though the seersuckers had been but vanity, and the castor-oil vexation of spirit."
"Produce the documents," said the Baboo, with a business-like impassibility that in Wall Street would have made him a great bear; --"where are the receipts?"
"My Lord, I know not. Prostrating my unworthy turban beneath the lovely lilies of your feet, I swear to my gureeb purwar, the destitute-and-humble-protecting lord, by the Holy Water and the Blessed Cow, by the beard of my father and the veil of my mother, that I settled the little account long ago!"
That unhappy speculator in seersuckers and castor-oil died in prison, and a gooroo (that is, a spiritual teacher) feed by the Baboo, desolated his last hour with the assurance that he should transmigrate into the bodies of seven generations of gharree-horses, and drag feringhee sailormen, in a state of beer, from the ghauts to the punch-houses, all his miserable lives.
Now whether or not the unlucky little speculator had in good faith discharged the debt will, in all the probabilities of human rights and wrongs, never appear this side of the last trump; for the Holy Water and the Sacred Cow, his father's beard and his mother's veil, were not good in law, the documents not forthcoming.
But it is certain that his widow had faith in his integrity; for at once, with all her sorrows on her head, she sallied forth in quest of justice; and from Brahmin post to Sahib pillar she went crying, "See me righted! Against this hard and arrogant Baboo let my wrongs be redressed, or fear the evil eye of Dookhee the Sorrowful, of Haranu the Lost!"
But utterly in vain; for the clamor of the Hindoo widow, however bitterly aggrieved, is but a nuisance, and her accusation insolence. So in her pitiful outcasting, in all the forlorn loathsomeness of leprosy, and the shunned squalor of a cripple, she sat down at the Baboo's gate, to wait for justice till the gods should bestow it, --till Siva, the Avenger, should behold her, and ask, "Who has done this?"
And who shall challenge her? Who shall bid her move on? Mamoul has crowned her Queen of Tears, and her sublime patience and appealing have made a throne of the wayside stone on which she sits; there is no power so audacious that it would give the word to depose her; her matted gray locks and her furrowed cheeks, her sunken eyes and her hungry lips, are her "sacred ashes" of the high caste of Sorrow.
The Brahmin averts his face as he passes, and mutters, "She is as the flower which is out of reach, --she is dedicated to God." That insolent official, the Baboo's pampered durwan, sees in her only Mamoul; he would as soon think of shaving himself as of driving her away. So, as the Baboo passes in or out through the great gate, the solemn coachman whips up the spanking Arabs, and the syces bawl louder than ever, and Kalidas Ramaya Mullick turns away his eyes. But for all that, the durhna woman heaps dust upon her head, which he sees, and mutters a weird warning, which he hears; and though the lawn is wide, and the banian topes are leafy, and a gilded temple, the family shrine, stands between, and the marble veranda is spacious, and the state apartments are remote, they do say the shadow of the durhna woman falls on the iced Simpkin and the steaks, in spite of Young Bengal.
Mootrib i koosh nuwà bigo,Now surely she who thus sings should be beautiful, after the Hindoo type; --that is, she should have the complexion of chocolate and cream; "her face should be as the full moon, her nose smooth as a flute; she should have eyes like unto lotuses, and a neck like a pigeon's; her voice should be soft as the cuckoo's, and her step as the gait of a young elephant of pure blood." Let us see.
Alas, no! She entertains a set of lazy bearers, smoking the hubble-bubble around a palanquin as they wait for a fare; and her buksheesh may be a cowry or two. By no means is she of the nautch-maidens of Lucknow, who were wont to lighten the hours of debauched majesty between the tiger-fights and the games of leap-frog; by no means is she ringed as to her fingers or belled as to her toes; and though she carries her music wherever she goes, she also carries a shiny brown baby, slung in a canvas tray between her shoulders.
No excessively voluminous folds of gold-embroidered drapery encumber her supple limbs; but her skirts are of the scantiest, (what Miss Flora MacFlimsey would call skimped,) and pitifully mean as to quality. By no means have the imperial looms of Benares contributed to her professional costume a veil of wondrous fineness and a Nabob's price; but a narrow red strip of some poor cotton stuff crosses her bosom like a scarf, and leaves exposed too much of the ruins of once daintier beauties. A string of glass beads, black and red alternate, are all her jewels,-save one silver bodkin, all forlorn, in her hair, and a ring of thin gold wire piercing the right nostril, and, with an effect completely deforming, encircling the lips. Her teeth and nails are deeply stained, and the darkness of her eyes is enhanced by artificial shadows.
And so, while that baby-Tantalus, catching glimpses, over the unveiled shoulder, of the Micawberian fount he cannot reach, stretches his little brown arms, bites, kicks, and squalls, while a small female apprentice, by way of chorus, in costume and gesture absurdly caricaturing her prima donna, (a sort of Cossitollah marchioness, indeed, for some Dick Swiveller of the Sahibs,) shuffles rheumatically with her feet, or impotently dislocates her slender arms, or pounds insanely on a cracked tomtom, or jangles her clumsy cymbals, while the squatting bearers cry, "Wah wah!" and clap their sweaty hands, our poor old glee-maiden of Cossitollah strums her two-stringed guitar, letting the baby slide, and creaks corkscrewishly her Chota, chota natchelee:--
Badi suba choo boog zuree,Heaven save the key!
"Ka munkta, Bearer? --What is it, my gentle Karlee?"
"Chittee, Sahib! --chittee for Master."
"Note, hey? from whom? let us see!"
Pink paper,-scented with sandal-wood, pah! --embossed, too, with cornucopias in the corners, --seal motto, Qui hi? ("Who waits?") --denoting that the bearer is to bring an answer. Now for the inside:
"DEVOTED AND RESPECTFUL SIR:--"There now! for an imposing structure in the florid style ofhalf-caste begging-letters, Mrs. Diana Theodosia Comfort Green flatters herself that is hard to beat.
"'Qui hi?' --Karlee, who is at the gate?"
"Mem Sahib! one chee-chee woman wanch look see Master, ispeakee Master buksheesh give; paunch butcha have got."
"Paunch butcha! --five children! why, Karlee, there are but two here. But remembering, I suppose, that my Excellency has but two 'mercy feet,' and with an eye to symmetry in the arrangement of the grand tableau of which she proposes to make me the central figure, she has made it two 'imbecile offsprings' for the looks of the thing. Do you know her, Karlee?"
"Man, Sahib! too much quentence have got that chee-chee woman; that chee-chee woman all same dam iscamp; paunch butcha not have got, --one butcha not have got. Master not give buksheesh; no good that woman, Karlee think."
"Very well, old man; send her away; tell the durwan to disperse Mrs. Diana Theodosia Comfort Green; but let him not insult her decrepit widowhood, nor alarm her imbecile offsprings of various denominations. For the 'Eurasian' is a great institution, without which polkas at Coolee Bazaar were not, nor pic-nics dansantes at Chandernagore."
But now to tiffin. I smell a smell of curried prawns, and the first mangoes of the season are fragrant. Buxsoo, the khansaman, has cooled the isherry-shrob, as he calls the "green seal," and the kidmudgars are crying, "Tiffin, Sahib!" The Mamoul of meal-time knows no caste or country.
Bur zi hyat ky kooree!* * * * *