Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
By Meer Hassan Ali

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Public Domain Books

Letter XII

The Zeenahnah.–Its interior described.–Furniture, decorations, &c.–The Purdah (curtains).–Bedstead.–The Musnud (seat of honour).–Mirrors and ornamental furniture disused.–Display on occasions of festivity.–Observations on the Mussulmaun Ladies.–Happiness in their state of seclusion.–Origin of secluding females by Mahumud.–Anecdote.–Tamerlane’s command prohibiting females being seen in public.–The Palankeen.–Bearers.–Their general utility and contentedness of disposition.–Habits peculiar to Mussulmaun Ladies.–Domestic arrangements of a Zeenahnah.–Dinner and its accompanying observances.–The Lota and Lugguns.–The Hookha.–Further investigation of the customs adopted in Zeenahnahs.

Before I introduce the ladies of a Mussulmaun zeenahnah to your notice, I propose giving you a description of their apartments.

Imagine to yourself a tolerably sized quadrangle, three sides of which is occupied by habitable buildings, and the fourth by kitchens, offices, lumber rooms, &c.; leaving in the centre an open court-yard. The habitable buildings are raised a few steps from the court; a line of pillars forms the front of the building, which has no upper rooms; the roof is flat, and the sides and back without windows, or any aperture through which air can be received. The sides and back are merely high walls forming an enclosure, and the only air is admitted from the fronts of the dwelling-place facing the court-yard. The apartments are divided into long halls, the extreme corners having small rooms or dark closets purposely built for the repository of valuables or stores; doors are fixed to these closets, which are the only places I have seen with them in a zeenahnah or mahul[1] (house or palace occupied by females); the floor is either of beaten earth, bricks, or stones; boarded floors are not yet introduced.

As they have neither doors nor windows to the halls, warmth or privacy is secured by means of thick wadded curtains, made to fit each opening between the pillars. Some zeenahnahs have two rows of pillars in the halls with wadded curtains to each, thus forming two distinct halls, as occasion may serve, or greater warmth be required: this is a convenient arrangement where the establishment of servants, slaves, &c., is extensive.

The wadded curtains are called purdahs[2]; these are sometimes made of woollen cloth, but more generally of coarse calico, of two colours, in patchwork style, striped, vandyked, or in some other ingeniously contrived and ornamented way, according to their individual taste.

Besides the purdahs, the openings between the pillars have blinds neatly made of bamboo strips, wove together with coloured cords: these are called jhillmuns or cheeks.[3] Many of them are painted green; others are more gaudy both in colour and variety of patterns. These blinds constitute a real comfort to every one in India, as they admit air when let down, and at the same time shut out flies and other annoying insects; besides which the extreme glare is shaded by them,–a desirable object to foreigners in particular.

The floors of the halls are first matted with the coarse date-leaf matting of the country, over which is spread shutteringhies[4] (thick cotton carpets, peculiarly the manufacture of the Upper Provinces of India, wove in stripes of blue and white, or shades of blue); a white calico carpet covers the shutteringhie, on which the females take their seat.

The bedsteads of the family are placed, during the day, in lines at the back of the halls, to be moved at pleasure to any chosen spot for the night’s repose; often into the open courtyard, for the benefit of the pure air. They are all formed on one principle, differing only in size and quality; they stand about half-a-yard from the floor, the legs round and broad at bottom, narrowing as they rise towards the frame, which is laced over with a thick cotton tape, made for the purpose, and platted in checquers, and thus rendered soft, or rather elastic, and very pleasant to recline upon. The legs of these bedsteads are in some instances gold, silver gilt, or pure silver; others have enamel paintings on fine wood; the inferior grades have them merely of wood painted plain and varnished; the servants’ bedsteads are of the common mango-wood without ornament, the lacing of these for the sacking being of elastic string manufactured from the fibre of the cocoa-nut.

Such are the bedsteads of every class of people. They seldom have mattresses; a soojinee[5] (white quilt) is spread on the lacing, over which a calico sheet, tied at each corner of the bedstead with cords and tassels; several thin flat pillows of beaten cotton for the head,–a muslin sheet for warm weather, and a well wadded ruzzie[6] (coverlid) for winter, is all these children of Nature deem essential to their comfort in the way of sleeping. They have no idea of night dresses; the same suit that adorns a lady, is retained both night and day, until a change be needed. The single article exchanged at night is the deputtah,[7] and that only when it happens to be of silver tissue or embroidery, for which a muslin or calico sheet is substituted.

The very highest circles have the same habits in common with the meanest, but those who can afford shawls of cashmere prefer them for sleeping in, when the cold weather renders them bearable. Blankets are never used except by the poorest peasantry, who wear them in lieu of better garments night and day in the winter season: they are always black, the natural colour of the wool. The ruzzies of the higher orders are generally made of silk of the brightest hues, well wadded, and lined with dyed muslin of assimilating colour; they are usually bound with broad silver ribands, and sometimes bordered with gold brocaded trimmings. The middling classes have fine chintz ruzzies, and the servants and slaves coarse ones of the same material; but all are on the same plan, whether for a queen or the meanest of her slaves, differing only in the quality of the material.

The mistress of the house is easily distinguished by her seat of honour in the hall of a zeenahnah; a musnud[8] not being allowed to any other person but the lady of the mansion.

The musnud carpet is spread on the floor if possible near to a pillar about the centre of the hall, and is made of many varieties of fabric,–gold cloth, quilted silk, brocaded silk, velvet, fine chintz, or whatever may suit the lady’s taste, circumstances, or convenience. It is about two yards square, and generally bordered or fringed, on which is placed the all-important musnud. This article may be understood by those who have seen a lace-maker’s pillow in England, excepting only that the musnud is about twenty times the size of that useful little article in the hands of our industrious villagers. The musnud is covered with gold cloth, silk, velvet, or calico, with square pillows to correspond, for the elbows, the knees, &c. This is the seat of honour, to be invited to share which, with the lady-owner, is a mark of favour to an equal or inferior: when a superior pays a visit of honour, the prided seat is usually surrendered to her, and the lady of the house takes her place most humbly on the very edge of her own carpet.

Looking-glasses or ornamental furniture are very rarely to be seen in the zeenahnahs, even of the very richest females. Chairs and sofas are produced when English visitors are expected; but the ladies of Hindoostaun prefer the usual mode of sitting and lounging on the carpet; and as for tables, I suppose not one gentlewoman of the whole country has ever been seated at one; and very few, perhaps, have any idea of their useful purposes, all their meals being served on the floor, where dusthakhawns[9] (table-cloths we should call them) are spread, but neither knives, forks, spoons, glasses, or napkins, so essential to the comfortable enjoyment of a meal amongst Europeans. But those who never knew such comforts have no desire for the indulgence, nor taste to appreciate them.

On the several occasions, amongst Native society, of assembling in large parties, as at births and marriages, the halls, although extensive, would be inadequate to accommodate the whole party. They then have awnings of white calico, neatly flounced with muslin, supported on poles fixed in the courtyard, and connecting the open space with the great hall, by wooden platforms which are brought to a line with the building, and covered with shutteringhie and white carpets to correspond with the floor-furniture of the hall; and here the ladies sit by day and sleep by night very comfortably, without feeling any great inconvenience from the absence of their bedsteads, which could never be arranged for the accommodation of so large an assemblage–nor is it ever expected.

The usually barren look of these almost unfurnished halls is on such occasions quite changed, when the ladies are assembled in their various dresses; the brilliant display of jewels, the glittering drapery of their dress, the various expressions of countenance, and different figures, the multitude of female attendants and slaves, the children of all ages and sizes in their variously ornamented dresses, are subjects to attract both the eye and the mind of an observing visitor; and the hall, which when empty appeared desolate and comfortless, thus filled, leaves nothing wanting to render the scene attractive.

The buzz of human voices, the happy playfulness of the children, the chaste singing of the domenies fill up the animated picture. I have sometimes passed an hour or two in witnessing their innocent amusements, without any feeling of regret for the brief sacrifice of time I had made. I am free to confess, however, that I have returned to my tranquil home with increased delight after having witnessed the bustle of a zeenahnah assembly. At first I pitied the apparent monotony of their lives; but this feeling has worn away by intimacy with the people, who are thus precluded from mixing generally with the world. They are happy in their confinement; and never having felt the sweets of liberty, would not know how to use the boon if it were to be granted them. As the bird from the nest immured in a cage is both cheerful and contented, so are these females. They have not, it is true, many intellectual resources, but they have naturally good understandings, and having learned their duty they strive to fulfil it. So far as I have had any opportunity of making personal observations on their general character they appear to me obedient wives, dutiful daughters, affectionate mothers, kind mistresses, sincere friends, and liberal benefactresses to the distressed poor. These are their moral qualifications, and in their religious duties they are zealous in performing the several ordinances which they have been instructed by their parents or husbands to observe. If there be any merit in obeying the injunctions of their Lawgiver, those whom I have known most intimately deserve praise, since ’they are faithful in that they profess’.

To ladies accustomed from infancy to confinement this is by no means irksome; they have their employments and their amusements, and though these are not exactly to our taste, nor suited to our mode of education, they are not the less relished by those for whom they were invented. They perhaps wonder equally at some of our modes of dissipating time, and fancy we might spend it more profitably. Be that as it may, the Mussulmaun ladies, with whom I have been long intimate, appear to me always happy, contented, and satisfied with the seclusion to which they were born; they desire no other, and I have ceased to regret they cannot be made partakers of that freedom of intercourse with the world we deem so essential to our happiness, since their health suffers nothing from that confinement, by which they are preserved from a variety of snares and temptations; besides which, they would deem it disgraceful in the highest degree to mix indiscriminately with men who are not relations. They are educated from infancy for retirement, and they can have no wish that the custom should be changed, which keeps them apart from the society of men who are not very nearly related to them. Female society is unlimited, and that they enjoy without restraint.

A lady whose friendship I have enjoyed from my first arrival in India, heard me very often speak of the different places I had visited, and she fancied her happiness very much depended on seeing a river and a bridge. I undertook to gain permission from her husband and father, that the treat might be permitted; they, however, did not approve of the lady being gratified, and I was vexed to be obliged to convey the disappointment to my friend. She very mildly answered me, ’I was much to blame to request what I knew was improper for me to be indulged in; I hope my husband and family will not be displeased with me for my childish wish; pray make them understand how much I repent of my folly. I shall be ashamed to speak on the subject when we meet.’

I was anxious to find out the origin of secluding females in the Mussulmaun societies of Hindoostaun, as I could find no example in the Mosaic law, which appears to have been the pattern Muhumud followed generally in domestic habits. I am told by the best possible authority, that the first step towards the seclusion of females occurred in the life of Mahumud, by whose command the face and figure of women were veiled on their going from home, in consequence of some departure from strict propriety in one of his wives (Ayashur,[10] the daughter of Omir); she is represented to have been a very beautiful woman, and was travelling with Mahumud on a journey in Arabia.

’The beautiful Ayashur, on her camel, was separated from the party; she arrived at the serai (inn, or halting-place) several hours after they had encamped, and declared that her delay was occasioned by the loss of a silver bangle from her ankle, which after some trouble she had discovered, and which she produced in a bruised state in testimony of her assertion. Mahumud was displeased, and her father enraged beyond measure at his daughter’s exposing herself to the censure of the public, by allowing any thing to detach her from the party.’ Mahumud assuaged Omir’s anger by a command then first issued, ’That all females, belonging to the faithful, should be compelled to wear a close veil over their face and figure whenever they went abroad.’

In Arabia and Persia the females are allowed to walk or ride out with a sort of hooded cloak, which falls over the face, and has two eye-holes for the purpose of seeing their way.[11] They are to be met with in the streets of those countries without a suspicion of impropriety when thus habited.

The habit of strict seclusion, however, originated in Hindoostaun with Tamerlane the conqueror of India.

When Tamerlane[12] with his powerful army entered India, he issued a proclamation to all his followers to the following purport, ’As they were now in the land of idolatry and amongst a strange people, the females of their families should be strictly concealed from the view of strangers’; and Tamerlane himself invented the several covered conveyances which are to the present period of the Mussulmaun history in use, suited to each grade of female rank in society. And the better to secure them from all possibility of contamination by their new neighbours, he commanded that they should be confined to their own apartments and behind the purdah, disallowing any intercourse with males of their own persuasion even, who were not related by the nearest ties, and making it a crime in any female who should willingly suffer her person to be seen by men out of the prescribed limits of consanguinity.

Tamerlane, it may be presumed, was then ignorant of the religious principles of the Hindoos. They are strictly forbidden to have intercourse or intermarry with females who are not strictly of their own caste or tribe, under the severe penalty of losing that caste which they value as their life. To this may be attributed, in a great degree, the safety with which female foreigners travel daak[13] (post) in their palankeens, from one point of the Indian continent to another, without the knowledge of five words of the Hindoostaunie tongue, and with no other servant or guardian but the daak-bearers, who carry them at the rate of four miles an hour, travelling day and night successively.

The palankeen is supported on the shoulders of four bearers at once,–two having the front pole attached to the vehicle, and two supporting the pole behind. The four bearers are relieved every five or six minutes by other four, making the set of eight to each palankeen,–this set conveys their burden from eight to ten miles, where a fresh party are in waiting to relieve them, and so on to the extent of the projected journey; much in the same way as relays of horses are stationed for post-travelling in England. Perhaps the tract of country passed through may not present a single hut or habitation for miles together, often through jungles of gloomy aspect; yet with all these obstacles, which would excite fear or distrust in more civilized parts of the world, females travel in India with as perfect security from insult as if they were guarded by a company of sepoys, or a troop of cavalry.

I am disposed to think that the invention of covered conveyances by Tamerlane first gave rise to the bearers. It seems so probable that the conqueror of the Hindoos should have been the first to degrade human nature, by compelling them to bear the burden of their fellow-creatures. I can never forget the first impression, on my mind, when witnessing this mode of conveyance on my landing at Calcutta; and although I am willing to agree that the measure is one of vast utility in this climate, and to acknowledge with gratitude the benefit I have derived by this personal convenience, yet I never seat myself in the palankeen or thonjaun[14] without a feeling bordering on self-reproach, as being one amongst the number to perpetuate the degradation of my fellow-mortals. They, however, feel nothing of this sentiment themselves, for they are trained from boyhood to the toil, as the young ox to the yoke. It is their business; the means of comfort is derived to them by this service; they are happy in the employment, and generally cheerful, and form a class of people in themselves respected by every other both for their services and for their general good behaviour. In the houses of foreigners they are the most useful amongst the whole establishment; they have charge of property, keep the furniture in exact order, prepare the beds, the lamps, and the candles, where wax is used. Tallow having beef-fat in its manufacture is an abomination, to the Hindoos, by whom it is considered unholy to slay, or even to touch any portion of the slaughtered cattle of their respect: for believing in transmigration, they affirm that these animals receive the souls of their departed relations. The bearers make the best of nurses to children, and contribute to the comfort of their employer by pulling the punkah night and day: in short, so necessary are these servants to the domestic economy of sojourners in the East, that their merits as a people must be a continual theme of praise; for I know not how an English establishment could be concluded with any degree of comfort without these most useful domestics. But I have allowed my pen to stray from the subject of female seclusion, and will here bring that part of my history to a close in very few words.

Those females who rank above peasants or inferior servants, are disposed from principle to keep themselves strictly from observation; all who have any regard for the character or the honour of their house, seclude themselves from the eye of strangers, carefully instructing their young daughters to a rigid observance of their own prudent example. Little girls, when four years old, are kept strictly behind the purdah, and when they move abroad it is always in covered conveyances, and under the guardianship of a faithful female domestic, who is equally tenacious us the mother to preserve the young lady’s reputation unblemished by concealing her from the gaze of men.

The ladies of zeenahnah life are not restricted from the society of their own sex; they are, as I have before remarked, extravagantly fond of company, and equally as hospitable when entertainers. To be alone is a trial to which they are seldom exposed, every lady having companions amongst her dependants; and according to her means the number in her establishment is regulated. Some ladies of rank have from two to ten companions, independent of slaves and domestics; and there are some of the Royal family at Lucknow who entertain in their service two or three hundred female dependants, of all classes. A well-filled zeenahnah is a mark of gentility; and even the poorest lady in the country will retain a number of slaves and domestics, if she cannot afford companions; besides which they are miserable without society, the habit of associating with numbers having grown up with infancy to maturity: ’to be alone’ is considered, with women thus situated, a real calamity.

On occasions of assembling in large parties, each lady takes with her a companion besides two or three slaves to attend upon her, no one expecting to be served by the servants of the house at which they are visiting. This swells the numbers to be provided for; and as the visit is always for three days and three nights (except on Eades, when the visit is confined to one day), some forethought must be exercised by the lady of the house, that all may be accommodated in such a manner as may secure to her the reputation of hospitality.

The kitchen and offices to the zeenahnah, I have remarked, occupy one side of the quadrangle; they face the great or centre hall appropriated to the assembly. These kitchens, however, are sufficiently distant to prevent any great annoyance from the smoke;–I say smoke, because chimneys have not yet been introduced into the kitchens of the Natives. The fire-places are all on the ground, something resembling stoves, each admitting one saucepan, the Asiastic style of cooking requiring no other contrivance. Roast or boiled joints are never seen at the dinner of a Native: a leg of mutton or sirloin of beef would place the hostess under all sorts of difficulties, where knives and forks are not understood to be amongst the useful appendages of a meal. The variety of their dishes are countless, but stews and curries are the chief; all the others are mere varieties. The only thing in the shape of roast meats, are small lean cutlets bruised, seasoned and cemented with pounded poppy-seed, several being fastened together on skewers: they are grilled or roasted over a charcoal fire spread on the ground, and then called keebaab,[15] which word implies, roast meat.

The kitchen of a zeenahnah would be inadequate to the business of cooking for a large assembly; the most choice dishes only (for the highly favoured guests), are cooked by the servants of the establishment. The needed abundance required on entertaining a large party is provided by a regular bazaar cook, several of whom establish themselves in Native cities, or wherever there is a Mussulmaun population. Orders being previously given, the morning and evening dinners are punctually forwarded at the appointed hours in covered trays, each tray having portions of the several good things ordered, so that there is no confusion in serving out the feast on its arrival at the mansion. The food thus prepared by the bazaar cook (naunbye,[16] he is called), is plain boiled-rice, sweet-rice, kheer[17] (rice-milk), mautungun[18] (rice sweetened with the addition of preserved fruits, raisins, &c., coloured with saffron), sallons[19] (curries) of many varieties, some cooked with vegetables, others with unripe fruits with or without meat; pillaus of many sorts, keebaabs, preserves, pickles, chatnees, and many other things too tedious to admit of detail.

The bread in general use amongst Natives is chiefly unleavened; nothing in the likeness of English bread is to be seen at their meals; and many object to its being fermented with the intoxicating toddy (extracted from a tree). Most of the Native bread is baked on iron plates over a charcoal fire. They have many varieties, both plain and rich, and some of the latter resembles our pastry, both in quality and flavour.

The dinners, I have said, are brought into the zeenahnah ready dished in the Native earthenware, on trays; and as they neither use spoons or forks, there is no great delay in setting out the meal where nothing is required for display or effect, beyond the excellent quality of the food and its being well cooked. In a large assembly all cannot dine at the dustha-khawn of the lady-hostess, even if privileged by their rank; they are, therefore, accommodated in groups of ten, fifteen, or more, as may be convenient; each lady having her companion at the meal, and her slaves to brush off the intruding flies with a chowrie, to hand water, or to fetch or carry any article of delicacy from or to a neighbouring group. The slaves and servants dine in parties after their ladies have finished, in any retired corner of the court-yard–always avoiding as much as possible the presence of their superiors.

Before any one touches the meal, water is carried round for each lady to wash the hand and rinse the mouth. It is deemed unclean to eat without this form of ablution, and the person neglecting it would he held unholy; this done, the lady turns to her meal, saying, ’Bis ma Allah!’–(In the name or to the praise of God!) and with the right hand conveys the food to her mouth, (the left is never used at meals)[20]; and although they partake of every variety of food placed before them with no other aid than their fingers, yet the mechanical habit is so perfect, that they neither drop a grain of rice, soil the dress, nor retain any of the food on their fingers. The custom must always be offensive to a foreign eye, and the habit none would wish to copy; yet every one who witnesses must admire the neat way in which eating is accomplished by these really ’children of Nature’.

The repast concluded, the lota[21] (vessel with water), and the luggun[22] (to receive the water in after rinsing the hands and mouth), are passed round to every person, who having announced by the ’Shuggur Allah!’–All thanks to God!–that she has finished, the attendants present first the powdered peas, culled basun,[23]–which answers the purpose of soap in removing grease, &c., from the fingers,–and then the water in due course. Soap has not even yet been brought into fashion by the Natives, except by the washermen; I have often been surprised that they have not found the use of soap a necessary article in the nursery, where the only substitute I have seen is the powdered pea.

Lotas and lugguns are articles in use with all classes of people; they must be poor indeed who do not boast of one, at least, in their family. They are always of metal, either brass, or copper lacquered over, or zinc; in some cases, as with the nobility, silver and even gold are converted into these useful articles of Native comfort.

China or glass is comparatively but little used; water is their only beverage, and this is preferred, in the absence of metal basins, out of the common red earthen katorah[24] (cup shaped like a vase).

China dishes, bowls, and basins, are used for serving many of the savoury articles of food in; but it is as common in the privacy of the palace, as well as in the huts of the peasantry, to see many choice things introduced at meals served up in the rude red earthen platter; many of the delicacies of Asiatic cookery being esteemed more palatable from the earthen flavour of the new vessel in which it is served.

I very well remember the first few days of my sojourn at Lucknow, feeling something bordering on dissatisfaction, at the rude appearance of the dishes containing choice specimens of Indian cookery, which poured in (as is customary upon fresh arrivals) from the friends of the family I had become a member of. I fancied, in my ignorance, that the Mussulmaun people perpetuated their prejudices even to me, and that they must fear I should contaminate their china dishes; but I was soon satisfied on this point: I found, by experience, that brown earthen platters were used by the nobility from choice; and in some instances, the viand would have wanted its greatest relish if served in China or silver vessels. Custom reconciles every thing: I can drink a draught of pure water now from the earthen katorah of the Natives with as much pleasure as from a glass or a silver cup, and feel as well satisfied with their dainties out of an earthen platter, as when conveyed in silver or China dishes.

China tea sets are very rarely found in the zeenahnah; tea being used by the Natives more as a medicine than a refreshment, except by such gentlemen as have frequent intercourse with the ’Sahib Logue’ (English gentry), among whom they acquire a taste for this delightful beverage. The ladies, however, must have a severe cold to induce them to partake of the beverage even as a remedy, but by no means as a luxury.[25] I imagined that the inhabitants of a zeenahnah were sadly deficient in actual comforts, when I found, upon my first arrival in India, that there were no preparations for breakfast going forward: every one seemed engaged in pawn eating, and smoking the hookha, but no breakfast after the morning Namaaz. I was, however, soon satisfied that they felt no sort of privation, as the early meal so common in Europe has never been introduced in Eastern circles. Their first meal is a good substantial dinner, at ten, eleven, or twelve o’clock, after which follow pawn and the hookha; to this succeeds a sleep of two or three hours, providing it does not impede the duty of prayer;–the pious, I ought to remark, would give up every indulgence which would prevent the discharge of this duty. The second meal follows in twelve hours from the first, and consists of the same substantial fare; after which they usually sleep again until the dawn of day is near at hand.

It is the custom amongst Natives to eat fruit after the morning sleep, when dried fruits, confectionery, radishes, carrots, sugar-cane, green peas, and other such delicacies, are likewise considered wholesome luxuries, both with the ladies and the children. A dessert immediately after dinner is considered so unwholesome, that they deem our practice extremely injudicious. Such is the difference of custom; and I am disposed to think their fashion, in this instance, would be worth imitating by Europeans whilst residing in India.

I have been much amused with the curious inquiries of a zeenahnah family when the gardener’s dhaullie is introduced. A dhaullie,[26] I must first tell you, is a flat basket, on which is arranged, in neat order, whatever fruit, vegetables, or herbs are at the time in season, with a nosegay of flowers placed in the centre. They will often ask with wonder–’How do these things grow?’–’How do they look in the ground?’–and many such child-like remarks have I listened to with pity, whilst I have relieved my heart by explaining the operations of Nature in the vegetable kingdom, a subject on which they are perfectly ignorant, and, from the habits of seclusion in which they live, can never properly be made to understand or enjoy.

I have said water is the only beverage in general use amongst the Mussulmaun Natives. They have sherbet, however, as a luxury on occasions of festivals, marriages, &c. This sherbet is simply sugar and water, with a flavour of rose-water, or kurah[27] added to it.

The hookha is almost in general use with females. It is a common practice with the lady of the house to present the hookha she is smoking to her favoured guest. This mark of attention is always to be duly appreciated; but such is the deference paid to parents, that a son can rarely be persuaded by an indulgent father or mother to smoke a hookha in their revered presence;–this praiseworthy feeling originates not in fear, but real genuine respect. The parents entertain for their son the most tender regard; and the father makes him both his companion and his friend; yet the most familiar endearments do not lessen the feeling of reverence a good son entertains for his father. This is one among the many samples of patriarchal life, my first Letter alluded to, and which I can never witness in real life, without feeling respect for the persons who follow up the patterns I have been taught to venerate in our Holy Scripture.

The hookha, as an indulgence of a privilege, is a great definer of etiquette. In the presence of the King or reigning Nuwaub, no subject, however high he may rank in blood or royal favour, can presume to smoke. In Native courts, on state occasions, hookhas are presented only to the Governor-General, the Commander-in-Chief, or the Resident at his Court, who are considered equals in rank, and therefore entitled to the privilege of smoking with him; and they cannot consistently resist the intended honour. Should they dislike smoking, a hint is readily understood by the hookha-bahdhaar[28] to bring the hookha, charged with the materials, without the addition of fire. Application of the munall[29] (mouth-piece) to the month indicates a sense of the honour conferred.

[1] Mahall. [2] Parda. [3] Jhilmil, chiq, the Anglo-Indian ’chick’.

[4] Shatranji, see p. 19.

[5] Sozani (sozan, ’a needle’), an embroidered quilt.

[6] Razai, a counterpane padded with cotton.

[7] Dopatta, a double sheet: see p. 26.

[8] See p. 24.

[9] Dastarkhwan, see p. 108.

[10] ’Ayishah, daughter of Abubakr, third and best loved wife of the
    Prophet, though she bore him no child. The tale of the scandal about
    her is historical, but it is treated as a calumny (Koran, xxiv.
    II, 22, with Sale’s note).

[11] Known as the burqa.

[12] Amir Taimur, known as Taimur Lang, ’the lame’, was born A.D.
    1336; ascended the throne at Balkh, 1370; invaded India and captured
    Delhi, 1398; died 1405, and was buried at Samarkand. There seems to be
    no evidence that he introduced the practice of the seclusion of women,
    an ancient Semitic custom, which, however, was probably enforced on
    the people of India by the brutality of foreign invaders.

[13] Dak.

[14] See p. 32.

[15] Kabab, properly, small pieces of meat roasted on skewers.

[16] Nanbai, a baker of bread (nan).

[17] Khir, milk boiled with rice, sugar, and spices.

[18] Mutanjan, a corruption of muttajjan, ’fried in a pan’; usually in
    the form mutanjan pulao, meat boiled with rice, sugar, butter,
    and sometimes pine-apples or nuts.

[19] Salan, a curry of meat, fish, or vegetables.

[20] The left hand is used for purposes of ablution.

[21] The Musalman lota, properly called badhna, differs from that used by Hindus in having a spout like that of a teapot.

[22] Lagan, a brass or copper pan in which the hands are washed: also used for kneading dough.

[23] Besan, flour, properly that of gram (chana). The prejudice
    against soap is largely due to imitation of Hindus, who believe
    themselves to be polluted by fat. Arabs, after a meal, wash their
    hands and mouths with soap (Burton, Pilgrimage, ii. 257). Sir G.
    Watt (Economic Dictionary, iii. 84 ff.) gives a long list of other
    detergents and substitutes for soap.

[24] Katora.

[25] The prejudice against the use of tea has much decreased since this
    book was written, owing to its cultivation in India. Musalmans and
    many Hindus now drink it freely.

[26] Dali, the ’dolly’ of Anglo-Indians.

[27] See p. 13.

[28] Huqqahbardar.

[29] Munhnal.


Introductory Notes  •  Preface to the Second Edition  •  Introduction  •  Introductory Letter  •  Letter I  •  Letter II  •  Letter III  •  Letter IV  •  Letter V  •  Letter VI  •  Letter VII  •  Letter VIII  •  Letter IX  •  Letter X  •  Letter XI  •  Letter XII  •  Letter XIII  •  Letter XIV  •  Letter XV  •  Letter XVI  •  Letter XVII  •  Letter XVIII  •  Letter XIX  •  Letter XX  •  Letter XXI  •  Letter XXII  •  Letter XXIII  •  Letter XXIV  •  Letter XXV  •  Letter XXVI  •  Letter XXVII  •  Bibliography of Works

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