Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
By Meer Hassan Ali

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Letter XV

On the birth and management of children in Hindoostaun.–Increase of joy on the birth of a Son.–Preference generally shown to male children.–Treatment of Infants.–Day of Purification.–Offerings presented on this occasion to the child.–The anniversary of the birthday celebrated.–Visit of the father to the Durgah.–Pastimes of boys.–Kites.–Pigeons.–The Mhogdhur.–Sword-exercise.–The Bow and Arrows.–The Pellet-bow.–Crows.–Sports of Native gentlemen.–Cock-fighting.–Remarks upon horses, elephants, tigers, and leopards.–Pigeon-shooting.–Birds released from captivity on particular occasions.–Reasons for the extension of the royal clemency in Native Courts.–Influence of the Prime Minister in the administration of justice.

The bustle of a wedding in the family of a Mussulmaun having subsided, and the bride become familiar with her new relatives, the mother also reconciled to the separation from her child by the knowledge of her happiness,–for they are allowed frequent intercourse,–the next important subject which fills their whole hearts with hope and anxiety, is the expected addition to the living members of the family. Should this occur within the first year of their union, it is included in the catalogue of ’Fortune’s favours’, as an event of no small magnitude to call forth their joy and gratitude. Many are the trifling ceremonies observed by the females of this uneducated people, important in their view to the well-being of both mother and infant, but so strongly partaking of superstition that time would be wasted in speaking of them; I will therefore hasten to the period of the infant’s birth, which, if a boy, is greeted by the warmest demonstrations of unaffected joy in the houses both of the parents of the bride and bridegroom. When a female child is born, there is much less clamourous rejoicing at its birth than when a son is added to honour the family;[1] but the good mother will never be dissatisfied with the nature of the gift, who can appreciate the source whence she receives the blessing. She rests satisfied that unerring Wisdom hath thus ordained, and bows with submission to His decree. She desires sons only as they are coveted by the father, and procure for the mother increased respect from the world, but she cannot actually love her infant less because it is a female.

The birth of a son is immediately announced by a discharge of artillery, where cannon are kept; or by musketry in the lower grades of the Native population, even to the meanest peasant, with whom a single match-lock proclaims the honour as effectually as the volley of his superiors. The women say the object in firing at the moment the child is born, is to prevent his being startled at sounds by giving him so early an introduction to the report of muskets; but in this they are evidently mistaken, since we never find a musket announcing the birth of a female child.[2] They fancy there is more honour attached to a house where are many sons. The men make them their companions, which in the present state of Mussulmaun society, girls cannot be at any age. Besides which, so great is the trouble and anxiety in getting suitable matches for their daughters, that they are disposed to be more solicitous for male than female children.

Amongst the better sort of people the mother very rarely nourishes her own infant; and I have known instances, when a wet-nurse could not be procured, where the infant has been reared by goals’ milk, rather than the good lady should be obliged to fatigue herself with her infant. The great objection is, that in Mussulmaun families nurses are required to be abstemious in their diet, by no means an object of choice amongst so luxurious a people. A nurse is not allowed for the first month or more to taste animal food, and even during the two years–the usual period of supporting infancy by this nourishment–the nurse lives by rule both in quality and quantity of such food only as may be deemed essential to the well-being of the child.

The lower orders of the people benefit by their superiors’ prejudices against nursing, and a wet-nurse once engaged in a family becomes a member of that house to the end of her days, unless she chooses to quit it herself.

On the fourth day after the birth of a son, the friends of both families are invited to share in the general joy testified by a noisy assembly of singing-women, people chattering, smell of savoury dishes, and constant bustle; which, to any other females in the world would be considered annoyances, but in their estimation are agreeable additions to the happiness of the mother, who is in most cases screened only by a curtain from the multitude of noisy visitors assembled to rejoice on the important event. I could not refrain, on one of these occasions, remarking on the injudicious arrangement at such a time, when I thought quiet was really needed to the invalid’s comfort. The lady thought otherwise; she was too much rejoiced at this moment of her exaltation to think of quiet; all the world would know she was the mother of a son; this satisfied her for all that she suffered from the noisy mirth and increased heat arising from the multitude of her visitors, who stayed the usual time, three days and nights. The ladies, however, recover their strength rapidly. They are attended by females in their time of peril, and with scarcely an instance of failure. Nature is kind. Science has not yet stepped within the confines of the zeenahnah. All is Nature with these uneducated females, and as they are under no apprehension, the hour arrives without terror, and passes over without weakening fears. They trust in God, and suffer patiently. It may be questioned, however, whether their pains at that juncture equal those of females in Europe. Their figure has never been tortured by stays and whalebone; indeed, I do not recollect having met with an instance of deformity in the shape of any inhabitant of a zeenahnah.

On the ninth day the infant is well bathed,–I cannot call any of its previous ablutions a bath,[3]–then its little head is well oiled, and the fillet thrown aside, which is deemed necessary from the first to the ninth day. The infant from its birth is laid in soft beaten cotton, with but little clothing until it has been well bathed, and even then the dress would deserve to be considered more as ornamental covering than useful clothing; a thin muslin loose shirt, edged and bordered with silver ribands, and a small skull-cap to correspond, comprises their dress. Blankets, robes, and sleeping-dresses, are things unknown in the nursery of a zeenahnah. The baby is kept during the month in a reclining position, except when the nurse receives it in her arms to nourish it; indeed for many months the infant is but sparingly removed from its reclining position. They would consider it a most cruel disturbance of a baby’s tranquillity, to set it up or hold it in the arms, except for the purpose of giving it nourishment.

The infant’s first nourishment is of a medicinal kind, composed of umultass[4](cassia), a vegetable aperient, with sugar, and distilled water of aniseed; this is called gootlie,[5] and the baby has no other food for the first three days, after which it receives the nurse’s aid. After the third day a small proportion of opium is administered, which practice is continued daily until the child is three or four years old.

The very little clothing on infants in India would of itself teach the propriety of keeping them in a reclining position, as the mere natural strength of the poor baby has nothing to support it by the aid of bandages or clothing. The nurse receives the baby on a thin pillow of calico quilted together, called gooderie;[6] it is changed us often us required, and is the only method as yet introduced amongst the Natives to secure cleanliness and comfort to their infants. In the cold season, when the thermometer may range from forty-five to fifty, the method of inducing warmth is by means of cotton or wadded quilts; flannel, as I have said before, they know not the use of. The children, however, thrive without any of those things we deem essential to the comfort of infancy, and the mamma is satisfied with the original customs, which, it may be supposed, are (without a single innovation) unchanged since the period of Abraham, their boasted forefather.

On the fortieth day after the infant’s birth, the same rites are observed as by the Jews (with the exception of circumcision), and denominated, as with them, the Day of Purification. On this day the infant is submitted to the hands of the barber, who shaves the head, as commanded by their law. The mother bathes and dresses in her most costly attire. Dinner is cooked for the poor in abundance. Friends and relatives call on the mother to present nuzzas and offerings, and to bring presents to the child, after the manner of the wise men’s offerings, so familiar to us in our Scriptures. The offerings to the child are often costly and pretty; bangles and various ornaments of the precious metals. The taawees[7] of gold and silver are tablets on which engraved verses from the Khoraun are inscribed in Arabic characters; these are strung on cords of gold thread, and suspended, when the child is old enough to bear their weight, over one shoulder, crossing the back and chest, and reaching below the hip on the opposite side; they have a remarkably good effect with the rich style of dressing Native children. In some of the offerings from the great people are to be observed precious stones set in necklaces, and bangles for the arms and ankles. All who visit at these times take something for the baby; it would be deemed an omen of evil in any one neglecting to follow this immemorial custom; not that they are avaricious, but that they are anxious for their infant’s prosperity, which these tributes are supposed to indicate.[8]

The mother thus blessed with a darling son is almost the idol of the new family she has honoured; and when such a person happens to be an agreeable, prudent woman, she is likely to remain without a rival in her husband’s heart, who has no inducement to add dhollie[9] wives to his establishment when his home is made happy to him by the only wife who can do him honour by the alliance.

The birthday of each son in a family is regularly kept. The term used for the occasion is Saul-girrah[10]–derived, from saul, a year, girrah, to tie a knot. The custom is duly maintained by tying a knot on a string kept for the purpose by the mother, on the return of her boy’s birthday. The girls’ years are numbered by a silver loop or ring being added yearly to the gurdonie,[11] or silver neck-ring. These are the only methods of registering the ages of Mussulmaun children.

The Saul-girrah is a day of annual rejoicing through the whole house of which the boy is a member; music, fireworks, toys, and whatever amusement suits his age and taste, are liberally granted to fill up the measure of his happiness; whilst his father and mother have each their assemblies to the fullest extent of their means. Dinner is provided liberally for the guests, and the poor are not neglected, whose prayers and blessings are coveted by the parents for their offspring’s benefit; and they believe the blessings of the poor are certain mediations at the throne of mercy which cannot fail to produce benefits on the person in whose favour they are invoked.

The boy’s nurse is on all occasions of rejoicing the first person to be considered in the distribution of gifts; she is, indeed, only second in the estimation of the parents to the child she has reared and nourished; and with the child, she is of more consequence even than his natural parents. The wet-nurse, I have said, is retained in the family to the end of her days, and whatever children she may have of her own, they are received into the family of her employer without reserve, either as servants or companions, and their interest in life regarded and watched over with the solicitude of relations, by the parents of the boy she has nursed.

At seven years old the boys are circumcised, as by their law directed. The thanksgiving when the child is allowed to emerge from confinement, gives rise to another jubilee in the family.

At Lucknow we see, almost daily, processions on their way to the Durgah (before described),[12] where the father conveys the young Mussulmaun to return thanks and public acknowledgements at the sainted shrine. The procession is planned on a grand scale, and all the male friends that can be collected attend in the cavalcade to do honour to so interesting an occasion.

When the prayer and thanksgiving have been duly offered in the boy’s name at the Durgah, money is distributed amongst the assembled poor; and on the way home, silver and copper coins are thrown to the multitude who crowd around the procession. The scrambling and tumult on these occasions can only be relished by the Natives, who thus court popularity; but they rarely move in state without these scenes of confusion following in their train. I have witnessed thousands of people following the King’s train, on his visiting the Durgah at Lucknow, when his Majesty and his Prime Minister scattered several thousands of rupees amongst the populace. The noise was deafening, some calling blessings on the King, others quarrelling and struggling to force away the prize from the happy one who had caught, in the passing shower, a rupee or two in his drapery. Some of the most cunning secure the prize in their mouths to save themselves from the plunderer; some are thrown down and trampled under foot; the sandy soil, however, renders their situation less alarming than such a calamity would be in London, but it is altogether a scene of confusion sufficient to terrify any one, except those who delight in their ancient customs without regarding consequences to individuals.

The amusements of boys in India differ widely from the juvenile sports of the English youth; here there are neither matches at cricket nor races; neither hoops nor any other game which requires exercise on foot. Marbles they have, and such other sports as suit their habits and climate, and can be indulged in without too much bodily exertion. They fly kites at all ages. I have seen men in years, even, engaged in this amusement, alike unconscious that they were wasting time, or employing it in pursuits fitted only for children. They are flown from the flat roofs of the houses, where it is common with the men to take their seat at sunset. They are much amused by a kind of contest with kites, which is carried on in the following manner. The neighbouring gentlemen, having provided themselves with lines, previously rubbed with paste and covered with pounded glass, raise their kites, which, when brought in contact with each other by a current of air, the topmost string cuts through the under one, when down falls the kite, to the evident amusement of the idlers in the streets or roadway, who with shouts and hurrahs seek to gain possession of the toy, with as much avidity as if it were a prize of the greatest value: however, from the numerous competitors, and their great zeal to obtain possession of it, it is usually torn to pieces. Much skill is shown in the endeavours of each party to keep his string uppermost, by which he is enabled to cut that of his adversary’s kite.

The male population are great pigeon-fanciers, and are very choice in their breed, having every variety of the species they can possibly procure; some are brought from different parts of the world at an enormous expense. Each proprietor of a flock of pigeons knows his own birds from every other. They are generally confined in bamboo houses erected on the flat roofs of the mansions, where at early dawn and at sunset the owner takes his station to feed his pets and give them a short airing. Perhaps a neighbour’s flock have also emerged from their cages at the same time, when mingling in the circuit round and round the buildings (as often happens), one or more from one person’s flock will return home with those of another; in which case, they are his lawful prize for ever, unless his neighbour wishes to redeem the captives by a price, or by an exchange of prisoners. The fortunate holder, however, of such prize makes his own terms, which are perhaps exorbitant, particularly if he have any ill-will against the proprietor, or the stray pigeon happen to be of a peculiarly rare kind.[13] Many are the proofs of good breeding and civility, elicited on such occasions between gentlemen; and many, also, are the perpetuated quarrels where such a collision of interests happens between young men of bad feelings, or with persons having any previous dislike to each other.

The chief out-door exercise taken by the youth of India, is an occasional ride on horseback or the elephant. They do not consider walking necessary to health; besides which, it is plebeian, and few ever walk who can maintain a conveyance. They exercise the moghdhur[14] (dumb-bell) as the means of strengthening the muscles and opening the chest. These moghdhurs, much resembling the club of Hercules, are used in pairs, each weighing from eight to twenty pounds; they are brandished in various ways over the head, crossed behind, and back again, with great ease and rapidity by those with whom the art has become familiar by long use. Those who would excel in the use of the moghdhurs practise every evening regularly; when, after the exercise, they have their arms and shoulders plastered with a moist clay, which they suppose strengthens the muscles and prevents them from taking cold after so violent an exercise. The young men who are solicitous to wield the sabre with effect and grace, declare this practice to be of the greatest service to them in their sword exercise: they go so far as to say, that they only use the sword well who have practised the moghdhur for several years.

At their sword exercise, they practise ’the stroke’ on the hide of a buffalo, or on a fish called rooey,[15] the scales of which form an excellent coat of mail, each being the size of a crown-piece, and the substance sufficient to turn the edge of a good sabre. The fish is produced alive from the river for this purpose; however revolting as the practice may appear to the European, it does not offend the feelings of the Natives, who consider the fish incapable of feeling after the first stroke; but, as regards the buffalo, I am told the most cruel inflictions have been made, by men who would try their blade and their skill on the staked animal without mercy.

The lance is practised by young men of good family as an exercise; and by the common people, as the means of rendering them eligible to the Native military service of India. It is surprising to witness the agility of some of the Natives in the exercise of the lance; they are generally good horsemen, and at full speed will throw the lance, dismount to recover it, and remount, often without stirrups, with a celerity inconceivable. I have seen them at these exercises with surprise, remembering the little activity they exhibit in their ordinary habits.

The Indian bow and arrow has greatly diminished as a weapon of defence in modern times; but all practise the use of the bow, as they fancy it opens the chest and gives ease and grace to the figure; things of no trifling importance with the Mussulmaun youth. I have seen some persons seated practising the bow, who were unable to bear the fatigue of standing; in those cases, a heavy weight and pulley are attached to the bow, which requires as much force in pulling as it would require to send an arrow from sixty to a hundred yards from the place they occupy.[16]

The pellet-bow is in daily use to frighten away the crows from the vicinity of man’s abode; the pellets are made of clay baked in the sun, and although they do not wound they bruise most desperately. Were it not for this means of annoying these winged pests, they would prove a perfect nuisance to the inhabitants, particularly within the confines of a zeenahnah, where these impudent birds assemble at cooking-time, to the great annoyance of the cooks, watching their opportunity to pounce upon anything they may incautiously leave uncovered. I have often seen women placed as watchers with the pellet-bow, to deter the marauders the whole time dinner was preparing in the kitchen. The front of these cooking-rooms are open to the zeenahnah court-yard, neither doors, windows, nor curtains being deemed necessary, where the smoke has no other vent than through the open front into the court-yard.

The crows are so daring that they will enter the yard, where any of the children may be taking their meals (which they often do in preference to eating them under the confinement of the hall), and frequently seize the bread from the hands of the children, unless narrowly watched by the servants, or deterred by the pellet-bow. And at the season of building their nests, these birds will plunder from the habitations of man, whatever may be met with likely to make a soft lining for their nests; often, I am told, carrying off the skull-cap from the children’s heads, and the women’s pieces of calico or muslin from their laps when seated in the open air at work.

Many of the Natives are strongly attached to the brutal practice of cock-fighting; they are very choice in their breed of that gallant bird, and pride themselves on possessing the finest specimens in the world. The gay young men expend much money in these low contests: the birds are fought with or without artificial spurs, according to the views of the contending parties.[17] They have also a small bird which they call ’the buttaire’,[18] a species of quail, which I hear are most valiant combatants; they are fed and trained for sport with much care and attention. I am told these poor little birds, when once brought to the contest, fight until they die. Many are the victims sacrificed to one mornings amusement of their cruel owners, who wager upon the favourite bird with a spirit and interest equal to that which may be found in more polished countries among the gentlemen of the turf.

Horse-racing has very lately been introduced at Lucknow, but I fancy the Natives have not yet acquired sufficient taste for the sport to take any great delight in it. As long as it is fashionable with European society, so long it may be viewed with comparative interest by the few. But their views of the breed and utility of a stud differ so much from those of a European, that there is but little probability of the sport of horse-racing ever becoming a favourite amusement with them,[19] When they are disposed to hunt, it is always on elephants, both for security and to save fatigue.

A horse of the finest temper, form, or breed, one that would be counted the most perfect animal by an English connoisseur, would be rejected by a Native if it possessed the slightest mark by them deemed ’unfortunate’. If the legs are not all of a colour, the horse is not worthy; if an unlucky turn of the hair, or a serpentine wave of another colour appears on any part of the animal, it is an ’omen of ill-luck’ to the possessor, and must not be retained on the premises. A single blemish of the sort would be deemed by a Native gentleman as great a fault in an otherwise perfect animal, as if it could only move on three legs. The prejudice is so strongly grounded in their minds to these trifling marks, that they would not keep such horses in their stables one hour, even if it belonged to their dearest friend, fearing the evil consequences that might befall their house.[20]

The swiftness of a good English hunter would be no recommendation to a Native gentleman; he rides for pleasant exercise and amusement, and the pace therefore never exceeds the gentlest canter of an English lady’s jennet. Many of their horses are trained to a pace I have never remarked in other countries; it is more than a walk but not quite a canter, the steps are taken very short, and is, I am assured, an agreeable exercise to the rider. I was once in possession of a strong hill pony, whose walk was as quick as the swiftest elephant; very few horses could keep up with him at a trot. The motion was very easy and agreeable, particularly suited to invalids in that trying climate.

The Native method of confining horses in their sheds or stables appears somewhat remarkable to a European. The halter is staked in the ground, and the two hind legs have a rope fastened to each; this is also staked in the ground behind. The ropes are left sufficiently long to allow of the animal lying down at his pleasure.

The food of horses is fresh grass, brought from the jungles daily, by the grass-cutters, who are kept solely for this purpose. In consequence of these men having to walk a distance of four or more miles before they reach the jungles, and the difficulty of finding sufficient grass when there, one man cannot procure more grass in a day than will suffice for one horse; the consequence is, that if a gentleman keep twenty horses, there are forty men to attend them; viz., twenty grooms, and as many grass-cutters. The grass of India, excepting only during the rainy season, is burnt up by the heat of the sun, in all exposed situations. In the jungles and forests of mango-trees, wherever there is any shade, the men search for grass, which is of a different species to any I have seen in Europe, called doob-grass,[21] a dwarf creeper, common throughout India; every other kind of grass is rejected by the horse; they would rather eat chaff in the absence of the doob-grass. The refuse of the grass given for food, answers the purpose of bedding; for in India straw is never brought into use, but as food for the cows, buffaloes, and oxen. The nature of straw is friable in India, perhaps induced by climate by the wise ordering of Divine Providence, of which indeed a reflecting mind must be convinced, since it is so essential an article for food to the cattle where grass is very scarce, excepting only during the season of rain.

When the corn is cut, the whole produce of a field is brought to one open spot, where the surface of the ground is hard and smooth; the oxen and their drivers trample in a continued circuit over the whole mass, until the corn is not only threshed from the husks, but the straw broken into fine chaff. They winnow it with their coarse blankets, or chuddahs[22] (the usual wrapper of a Native, resembling a coarse sheet), and house the separate articles in pits, dug in the earth, close to their habitations. Such things as barns, granaries, or stacks, are never seen to mark the abode of the Native farmers as in Europe.

An invading party could never discover the deposits of corn, whilst the Natives chose to keep their own secret. This method of depositing the corn and chaff in the earth, is the only secure way of preserving these valuable articles from the encroachment of white ants, whose visits to the grain are nearly as destructive, and quite as much dreaded, as the flights of locusts to the green blades.

The corn in general use for horses, sheep, and cattle, in called gram;[23] the flavour resembles our field pea much more than grain. It is produced on creepers, with pods; and bears a pretty lilac blossom, not unlike peas, or rather vetches, but smaller; the grain, however, is as large as a pea, irregularly shaped, of a dark brown skin, and pale yellow within. There are several other kinds of grain in use amongst the Natives for the use of cattle; one called moat,[24] of an olive green colour. It is considered very cooling in its nature, at certain seasons of the year, and is greatly preferred both for young horses and for cows giving milk.

Horses are subject to an infectious disease, which generally makes its appearance in the rainy season, and therefore called burrhsaatie.[25] Once in the stable, the disorder prevails through the stud, unless timely precautions are taken to prevent them being infected–removal from the stable is the most usual mode adopted–so easy is the infection conveyed from one animal to the other, that if the groom of the sick horse enters the stable of the healthy they rarely escape contagion. It is a tedious and painful disorder and in nine cases out of ten the infected animal either dies, or is rendered useless for the saddle. The legs break out in ulcers, and, I am informed, without the greatest care on the part of the groom, he is also liable to imbibe the corruption; if he has any cut or scratch on his hands, the disease may be received as by inoculation.

The Natives have the greatest aversion to docked-tailed horses, and will never permit the animals to be shorn of the beauty with which Nature has adorned them, either in length or fulness; besides which, they think it a barbarous want of taste in those who differ from them, though they fancy Nature is improved when the long tail and mane of a beautiful white Arab are dyed with mayndhie; his legs, up to the knees, stained with the same colour, and divers stars, crescents, &c., painted on the haunches, chest, and throat of the pretty gentle creature.[26]

When the horses are looking rough, the Natives feed them with a mixture of coarse brown sugar and ghee, which they say gives sleekness to the skin, and improves the constitution of the horse. When their horses grow old, they boil the gram with which they feed them, to make it easy of digestion; very few people, indeed, give corn at any age to the animal unsoaked, as they consider it injudicious to give dry corn to horses, which swells in the stomach of the animal and cannot digest: the grain swells exceedingly by soaking, and thus moistened, the horse requires less water than would be necessary with dry corn.

The numberless Native sports I have heard related in this country would take me too long to repeat at present; describe them I could not, for my feelings and views are at variance with the painful tortures inflicted on the brute creation for the perverted amusements of man, consisting of many unequal contests, which have sickened me to think they were viewed by mortals with pleasure or satisfaction. A poor unoffending antelope or stag, perhaps confined from the hour of its quitting its dam in a paddock, turned out in a confined space to the fury of a cheetah[27] (leopard) to make his morning’s repast. Tigers and elephants are often made to combat for the amusement of spectators; also, tigers and buffaloes, or alligators. The battle between intoxicated elephants is a sport suited only for the cruel-hearted, and too often indulged. The mahouts[28] (the men who sit as drivers on the neck of the elephant) have frequently been the victims of the ignoble amusement of their noble masters; indeed, the danger they are exposed to is so great, that to escape is deemed a miracle. The fighting-elephants are males, and they are prepared for the sport by certain drugs mixed up with the wax from the human ear. The method of training elephants for fighting must be left to abler hands to describe. I have passed by places where the animal was firmly chained to a tree, in situations remote from the population of a city, as danger is always anticipated from their vicinity; and when one of these infuriated beasts break from their bonds, serious accidents often occur to individuals before they can again be secured.

Amongst the higher classes tigers and leopards are retained for field sports, under the charge of regular keepers. In many instances these wild inhabitants of the jungle are tamed to the obedience of dogs, or other domestic animals. I have often seen the young cubs sucking the teats of a goat, with which they play as familiarly as a kitten with its mother. A very intimate acquaintance of ours has several tigers and leopards, which are perfectly obedient to his command; they are led out by their keepers night and morning, but he always feeds them with his own hands, that he may thereby make them obedient to himself, when he sports in the jungles, which he often does with success, bringing home stags and antelopes to grace the board, and distribute amongst his English friends.

The tigers and cheetahs are very generally introduced after breakfast, when Native noblemen have European visitors. I remember on one of these occasions, these animals were brought into the banqueting-room, just as the self-performing cabinet organ had commenced a grand overture. The creatures’ countenances were terrifying to the beholder, and one in particular could with great difficulty be reined in by his keepers. The Natives are, however, so accustomed to the society of tigers, that they smiled at my apprehension of mischief. I was only satisfied when they were forced away from the sounds that seemed to fill them with wonder, and perhaps with rage.

Pigeon-shooting is another amusement practised among the sporting men of Hindoostaun. I, of course, allude to the Mussulmauns, for most Hindoos hold it criminal to kill a crow, or even the meanest insect; and I have known them carry the principle of preserving life to the minutest insects, wearing crape or muslin over their mouths and noses in the open air, fearing a single animalcule that floats in the air should be destroyed by their breath. For the same reason, these men have every drop of water strained through muslin before it is used either for drinking or for cooking.[29]

There are people who make it a profitable means of subsistence to visit the jungles with nets, in order to collect birds, as pigeons, parrots, minas, &c.; these are brought in covered baskets to the towns, where they meet with a ready sale.

Many a basket have I delighted in purchasing, designing to rescue the pretty creatures from present danger. I am annoyed whenever I see birds immured in cages. If they could be trained to live with us, enjoying the same liberty, I should gladly court society with these innocent creatures; but a bird confined vexes me, my fingers itch to open the wicket and give the prisoner liberty. How have I delighted in seeing the pretty variegated parrots, minas, and pigeons fly from the basket when opened in my verandah! I have sometimes fancied in my evening walk that I could recognize the birds again in the gardens and grounds, which had been set at liberty in the morning by my hand.

The good ladies of India, from whom I have copied the practice of giving liberty to the captive birds, although different motives direct the action, believe, that if a member of their family is ill, such a release propitiates the favour of Heavenly mercy towards them.[30] A sovereign (amongst the Mussulmauns) will give liberty to a certain number of prisoners, confined in the common gaol, when he is anxious for the recovery of a sick member of his family; and so great is the merit of mercy esteemed in the creature to his fellow-mortal, that the birth of a son, a recovery from severe illness, accession to the throne, &c., are the precursors to royal clemency, when all prisoners are set at liberty whose return to society may not be deemed cruelty to the individual, or a calamity to his neighbours. I may here remark, the Mussulmaun laws do not allow of men being confined in prison for debt.[31] The government of Oude is absolute, yet to its praise be it said, during the first eight years of my sojourn I never heard of but one execution by the King’s command; and that was for crimes of the greatest enormity, where to have been sparing would have been unjust.[32] In cases of crime such as murder, the nearest relative surviving is appealed to by the court of justice; if he demand the culprit’s life, the court cannot save him from execution. But it is rarely demanded; they are by no means a revengeful people generally; there are ambitious, cruel tyrants to be found, but these individuals are exceptions to the mass of the people. Examples of mercy set by the King in all countries have an influence upon his subjects; and here the family of a murdered man, if poor, is maintained by the guilty party or else relieved by royal munificence, as the case may require. Acts of oppression may sometimes occur in Native States without the knowledge even, and much less by the command, of the Sovereign ruler, since the good order of the government mainly depends on the disposition of the Prime Minister for the time being. There is no check placed in the constitution of a Native government between the Prime Minister and his natural passions. If cruel, ambitious, or crafty, he practises all his art to keep his master in ignorance of his daily enormities; if the Prime Minister be a virtuous-minded person, he is subjected to innumerable trials, from the wiles of the designing and the ambitious, who strive by intrigue to root him from the favour and confidence of his sovereign, under the hope of acquiring for themselves the power they covet by his removal from office.

[1] When, a boy is born, the midwife, in order to avert the Evil Eye and
    evil spirits, says: ’It is only a girl blind of one eye!’ If a girl is
    born, the fact is stated, because she excites no jealousy, and is thus
    protected from spirit attacks.

[2] This is intended to scare evil spirits, but has become a mere form of announcing the joyful event.

[3] After the first bath pieces of black thread are tied round the child’s wrist and ankle as protection.

[4] Amaltas, Cassia fistula
[5] The purgative draught (guthl) is usually made of aniseed,
    myro-bolans, dried red rose leaves, senna, and the droppings of mice
    or goats.–Bombay Gazetteer, ix, part ii, 153.

[6] Gudri.

[7] Ta’awiz.

[8] Among the Khojahs of Bombay a stool is placed near the mother’s bed,
    and as each, of the female relatives comes in she strews a little rice
    on the stool, lays on the ground a gold or silver anklet as a gift for
    the child, and bending over mother and baby, passes her hands over
    them, and cracks her finger-joints against her own temples, in order
    to take all their ill luck upon herself.–Bombay Gazetteer, ix, part
    ii, 45.

[9] Duli: see p. 184.

[10] Salgirah or barasganth, ’year-knot’.

[11] Gardani.

[12] P. 36.

[13] The Mahomedans are very keen on breeding pigeons in large numbers; they make them fly all together, calling out, whistling, and waving with a cloth fastened to the end of a stick, running and making signals from the terraced roofs, with a view of encouraging the pigeons to attack the flock of some one else.... Every owner is overjoyed in seeing his own pigeons the most dexterous in misleading their opponents.’–Manucci, Storia do Mogor, i. 107 f.

[14] Mugdar.

[15] Rohu, a kind of carp, Labeo rohita.

[16] The use of the bow and arrow has now disappeared in northern India, and survives only among some of the jungle tribes.

[17] A curious relic of the custom of cock-fighting at Lucknow survives in
    the picture by Zoffany of the famous match between the Nawab
    Asaf-ud-daula and Col. Mordaunt in 1786. The figures in the picture are
    portraits of the celebrities at the Court of Oudh, whose names are
    given by Smith, Catalogue of British Mezzotint Portrait, i. 273.

[18] Bater, Coturnix communis.

[19] Lucknow is now an important racing centre, and the Civil Service Cup for ponies has been won several times by native gentlemen.

[20] The feather or curl is one of the most important marks. If it faces
    towards the head, this is a horse to buy; if it points towards the
    tail, it is a ’female snake’ (sampan), a bad blemish, as is a
    small star on the forehead. A curl at the bottom of the throat is very
    lucky, and cancels other blemishes. A piebald horse or one with five
    white points, a white face and four white stockings, is highly valued.
    The European who understands the rules can often buy an ’unlucky’
    horse at a bargain.

[21] Dub, Cynodon Dactylon.

[22] Chadar. [23] Cicer arietinum: the word comes from Port, grão, a grain.

[24] Moth, the aconite-leaved kidney-bean, Phaseolus aconitifolius.

[25] Barsati from barsat, the rainy season; a pustular eruption breaking out on the head and fore parts of the body.

[26] The Native gentleman’s charger, with his trained paces, his
    henna-stained crimson mane, tail, and fetlocks, is a picturesque sight
    now less common than it used to be.

[27] Chita, the hunting leopard. Felis jubata.

[28] Mahawat, originally meaning ’a high officer’.

[29] This specially applies to the Jain ascetics, who keep a brush to remove insects from their path, and cover their mouths with linen.

[30]  A common piece of imitative magic: as the bird flies away it carries
    the disease with it. The practice of releasing prisoners when the King
    or a member of his family was sick, or as a thanksgiving on recovery,
    was common.–Sleeman, Journey, ii. 41.

[31] This is incorrect. Imprisonment for debt is allowed by Muhammadan Law.–Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, 82.

[32] This gives a too favourable account of the administration of justice
    in Oudh. ’A powerful landlord during the Nawabi could evict a
    tenant, or enhance his rent, or take away his wife from him, or cut
    his head off, with as much, or as little, likelihood of being called
    to account by Na zim or Chakladar for one act as for another’
    (H.C. Irwin, The Garden of India, 258). Gen. Sleeman points out that
    Musalmans wore practically immune from the death penalty,
    particularly if they happened to kill a Sunni. A Hindu, consenting
    after conviction to become a Musalman, was also immune (Journey
    Through Oudh, i. 135). Executions used constantly to occur in Lucknow
    under Nasir-ud-din (W. Knighton, Private Life of an Eastern
    King, 104).


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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