Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
By Meer Hassan Ali

Presented by

Public Domain Books

Letter XVIII

Evils attending a residence in India.–Frogs.–Flies.–Blains.– Musquitoes.–The White Ant.–The Red Ant.–Their destructive habits.–A Tarantula.–Black Ants.–Locusts.–Superstition of the Natives upon their appearance.–The Tufaun, or Haundhie (tempest).–The rainy season.–Thunder and lightning.–Meteors.– Earthquakes.–A city ruined by them.–Reverence of the Mussulmauns for saints.–Prickly heat.–Cholera Morbus.–Mode of Treatment.–Temperance the best remedy.–Recipe.

A residence in India, productive as it may be (to many) of pecuniary benefits, presents, however, a few inconveniences to Europeans independent of climate,–which, in the absence of more severe trials, frequently become a source of disquiet, until habit has reconciled, or reflection disposed the mind to receive the mixture of evil and good which is the common lot of man in every situation of life. I might moralise on the duty of intelligent beings suffering patiently those trials which human ingenuity cannot avert, even if this world’s happiness were the only advantage to be gained; but when we reflect on the account we have to give hereafter, for every thought, word, or action, I am induced to believe, the well-regulated mind must view with dismay a retrospect of the past murmurings of which it has been guilty. But I must bring into view the trials of patience which our countrymen meet while in India, to those who have neither witnessed nor [Transcriber’s note: illegible] them; many of them present slight, but living, op[Transcriber’s note: illegible] those evils with which the Egyptians were visited for their impiety to Heaven.

Frogs, for instance, harmless as these creatures are in their nature, occasion no slight inconvenience to the inhabitants of India. They enter their house in great numbers and, without much care, would make their way to the beds, as they do to the chambers; the croaking during the rainy season is almost deafening, particularly towards the evening and during the night. Before the morning has well dawned, these creatures creep into every open doorway, and throughout the day secrete themselves under the edges of mattings and carpets, to the annoyance of those who have an antipathy to these unsightly looking creatures.

The myriads of flies which fill the rooms, and try the patience of every observer of nice order in an English establishment, may bear some likeness to the plague which was inflicted on Pharaoh and his people, as a punishment for their hardness of heart. The flies of India have a property not common to those of Europe, but very similar to the green fly of Spain: when bruised, they will raise a blister on the skin, and, I am told, are frequently made use of by medical gentlemen as a substitute for the Spanish fly.[1]

If but one wing or leg of a fly is by any accident dropped into the food of an individual, and swallowed, the consequence is an immediate irritation of the stomach, answering the purpose of a powerful emetic. At meals the flies are a pest, which most people say they abhor, knowing the consequences of an unlucky admission into the stomach of the smallest particle of the insect. Their numbers exceed all calculation; the table is actually darkened by the myriads, particularly in the season of the periodical rains. The Natives of India use muslin curtains suspended from the ceiling of their hall at meal times, which are made very full and long, so as to enclose the whole dinner party and exclude their tormentors.

The biles or blains, which all classes of people in India are subject to, may be counted as amongst the catalogue of Pharaoh’s plagues. The most healthy and the most delicate, whether Europeans or Natives, are equally liable to be visited by these eruptions, which are of a painful and tedious nature. The causes inducing these biles no one, as yet, I believe, has been able to discover, and therefore a preventive has not been found. I have known people who have suffered every year from these attacks, with scarce a day’s intermission during the hot weather.[2]

The musquitoes, a species of gnat, tries the patience of the public in no very measured degree; their malignant sting is painful, and their attacks incessant; against which there is no remedy but patience, and a good gauze curtain to the beds. Without some such barrier, foreigners could hardly exist; certainly they never could enjoy a night’s repose. Even the mere buzzing of musquitoes is a source of much annoyance to Europeans: I have heard many declare the bite was not half so distressing as the sound. The Natives, both male and female, habitually wrap themselves up so entirely in their chuddah[3] (sheet) that they escape from these voracious insects, whose sounds are so familiar to them that it may be presumed they lull to, rather than disturb their sleep.

The white ant is a cruel destroyer of goods: where it has once made its domicile, a real misfortune may be considered to have visited the house. They are the most destructive little insects in the world doing as much injury in one hour as a man might labour through a long life to redeem. These ants, it would seem, have no small share of animosity to ladies’ finery, for many a wardrobe have they demolished, well filled with valuable dresses and millinery, before their vicinity has even been suspected, or their traces discovered. They destroy beams in the roofs of houses, chests of valuable papers, carpets, mats, and furniture, with a dispatch which renders them the most formidable of enemies, although to appearance but a mean little insect.

There is one season of the year when they take flight, having four beautiful transparent wings; this occurs during the periodical rains, when they are attracted by the lights of the houses, which they enter in countless numbers, filling the tables, and whilst flitting before the lights disencumber themselves of their wings. They then become, to appearance, a fat maggot, and make their way to the floors and walls, where it is supposed they secrete themselves for a season, and are increasing in numbers whilst in this stage of existence. At the period of their migration in search of food, they will devour any perishable materials within their reach. It is probable, however, that they first send out scouts to discover food for the family, for the traces of white ants are discovered by a sort of clay-covered passage, formed as they proceed on their march in almost a direct line, which often extends a great distance from their nest.

To mark the economy of ants has sometimes formed a part of my amusements in Hindoostaun.[4] I find they all have wings at certain seasons of the year; and more industrious little creatures cannot exist than the small red ants, which are so abundant in India. I have watched them at their labours for hours without tiring; they are so small that from eight to twelve in number labour with great difficulty to convey a grain of wheat or barley; yet these are not more than half the size of a grain of English wheat. I have known them to carry one of these grains to their nest at a distance of from six hundred to a thousand yards; they travel in two distinct lines over rough or smooth ground, as it may happen, even up and down steps, at one regular pace. The returning unladen ants invariably salute the burthened ones, who are making their way to the general storehouse; but it is done so promptly that the line is neither broken nor their progress impeded by the salutation.

I was surprised one morning in my breakfast parlour to discover something moving slowly up the wall; on approaching near to examine what it was, I discovered a dead wasp, which the khidmutghar[5] (footman) had destroyed with his chowrie during breakfast, and which, falling on the floor, had become the prize of my little friends (a vast multitude), who were labouring with their tiny strength to convey it to their nest in the ceiling. The weight was either too great, or they had quarrelled over the burthen,–I know not which,–but the wasp fell to the ground when they had made more than half the journey of the wall; the courageous little creatures, however, were nothing daunted, they resumed their labour, and before evening their prize was safely housed.

These ants are particularly fond of animal food. I once caught a tarantula; it was evening, and I wished to examine it by daylight. I placed it for this purpose in a recess of the wall, under a tumbler, leaving just breathing room. In the morning I went to examine my curiosity, when to my surprise it was dead and swarming with red ants, who had been its destroyers, and were busily engaged in making a feast on the (to them) huge carcass of the tarantula.

These small creatures often prove a great annoyance by their nocturnal visits to the beds of individuals, unless the precaution be taken of having brass vessels, filled with water, to each of the bed-feet; the only method of effectually preventing their approach to the beds. I was once much annoyed by a visit from these bold insects, when reclining on a couch during the extreme heat of the day. I awoke by an uneasy sensation from their bite or sting about my ears and face, and found they had assembled by millions on my head; the bath was my immediate resource. The Natives tell me these little pests will feed on the human body if they are not disturbed: when any one is sick there is always great anxiety to keep them away.

The large black ant is also an enemy to man; its sharp pincers inflict wounds of no trifling consequence; it is much larger than the common fly, has long legs, is swift of foot, and feeds chiefly on animal substances. I fancy all the ant species are more or less carnivorous, but strictly epicurean in their choice of food, avoiding tainted or decomposed substances with the nicest discrimination. Sweetmeats are alluring to them; there is also some difficulty in keeping them from jars of sugar or preserves; and when swallowed in food, are the cause of much personal inconvenience.

I have often witnessed the Hindoos, male and female, depositing small portions of sugar near ants’ nests, as acts of charity to commence the day with;[6] and it is the common opinion with the Natives generally, that wherever the red ants colonize prosperity attends the owners of that house. They destroy the white ants, though the difference in their size is as a grain of sand to a barley-corn; and on that account only may be viewed rather as friends than enemies to man, provided by the same Divine source from whence all other benefits proceed.

The locusts, so familiar by name to the readers of Scripture, are here seen to advantage in their occasional visits. I had, however, been some years in India before I was gratified by the sight of these wonderful insects; not because of their rarity, as I had frequently heard of their appearance and ravages, but not immediately in the place where I was residing, until the year 1825, which the following memorandum made at the time will describe.

On the third of July, between four and five o’clock in the afternoon, I observed a dusky brown cloud bordering the Eastern horizon, at the distance of about four miles from my house, which stands on an elevated situation; the colour was so unusual that I resolved on inquiring from my oracle, Meer Hadjee Shaah, to whom I generally applied for elucidations of the remarkable, what such an appearance portended. He informed me it was a flight of locusts.

I had long felt anxious to witness those insects, that had been the food of St. John in the Desert, and which are so familiar by name from their frequent mention in Scripture; and now that I was about to be gratified, I am not ashamed to confess my heart bounded with delight, yet with an occasional feeling of sympathy for the poor people, whose property would probably become the prey of this devouring cloud of insects before the morning’s dawn. Long before they had time to advance, I was seated in an open space in the shade of my house to watch them more minutely. The first sound I could distinguish was as the gentlest breeze, increasing as the living cloud approached; and as they moved over my head, the sound was like the rustling of the wind through the foliage of many pepul-trees.[7]

It was with a feeling of gratitude that I mentally thanked God at the time that they were a stingless body of insects, and that I could look on them without the slightest apprehension of injury. Had this wondrous cloud of insects been the promised locust described in the Apocalypse, which shall follow the fifth angel’s trumpet; had they been hornets, wasps, or even the little venomous musquito, I had not then dared to retain my position to watch with eager eyes the progress of this insect family as they advanced, spreading for miles on every side with something approaching the sublime, and presenting a most imposing spectacle. So steady and orderly was their pace, having neither confusion nor disorder in their line of march through the air, that I could not help comparing them to the well-trained horses of the English cavalry.[8] ’Who gave them this order in their flight?’ was in my heart and on my tongue.

I think the main body of this army of locusts must have occupied thirty minutes in passing over my head, but my attention was too deeply engrossed to afford me time to consult my time-piece. Stragglers there were many, separated from the flight by the noises made by the servants and people to deter them from settling; some were caught, and, no doubt, converted into currie for a Mussulmaun’s meal. They say it is no common delicacy, and is ranked among the allowed animal food.

The Natives anticipate earthquakes after the visitation or appearance of locusts. They are said to generate in mountains, but I cannot find any one here able to give me an authentic account of their natural history.

On the 18th of September, 1825, another flight of these wonderful insects passed over my house in exactly a contrary direction from those which appeared in July, viz. from the West towards the East. The idea struck me that they might be the same swarm, returning after fulfilling the object of their visit to the West: but I have no authority on which to ground my supposition. The Natives have never made natural history even an amusement, much less a study, although their habits are purely those of Nature; they know the property of most herbs, roots, and flowers, which they cultivate, not for their beauty, but for the benefit they render to man and beast.[9]

I could not learn that the flight had rested anywhere near Futtyghur, at which place I was then living. They are of all creatures the most destructive to vegetation, licking with their rough tongue the blades of grass, the leaves of trees, and green herbage of all kinds. Wherever they settle for the night, vegetation is completely destroyed; and a day of mournful consequences is sure to follow their appearance in the poor farmer’s fields of green com.

But that which bears the most awful resemblance to the visitations of God’s wrath on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, is, I think, the frightful storm of wind which brings thick darkness over the earth at noonday, and which often occurs from the Tufaun or Haundhie,[10] as it is called by the Natives. Its approach is first discerned by dark columns of yellow clouds, bordering the horizon; the alarm is instantly given by the Natives, who hasten to put out the fires in the kitchens, and close the doors and windows in European houses, or with the Natives to let down the purdahs. No sound that can be conceived by persons who have not witnessed this phenomenon of Nature, is capable of conveying an idea of the tempest. In a few minutes total darkness is produced by the thick cloud of dust; and the tremendous rushing wind carries the fine sand, which produces the darkness, through every cranny and crevice to all parts of the house; so that in the best secured rooms every article of furniture is covered with sand, and the room filled as with a dense fog: the person, dresses, furniture, and the food (if at meal times), are all of one dusky colour; and though candles are lighted to lessen the horror of the darkness, they only tend to make the scene of confusion more visible.

Fortunately the tempest is not of very long continuance. I have never known it to last more than half an hour; yet in that time how much might have been destroyed of life and property, but for the interposing care of Divine mercy, whose gracious Providence over the works of His hand is seen in such seasons as these! The sound of thunder is hailed as a messenger of peace; the Natives are then aware that the fury of the tempest is spent, as a few drops of rain indicate a speedy termination; and when it has subsided they run to see what damage has been done to the premises without. It often occurs, that trees are torn up by their roots, the thatched houses and huts unroofed, and, if due care has not been taken to quench the fires in time, huts and bungalows are frequently found burnt, by the sparks conveyed in the dense clouds of sand which pass with the rapidity of lightning.

These tufauns occur generally in April, May, and June, before the commencement of the periodical rains. I shall never forget the awe I felt upon witnessing the first after my arrival, nor the gratitude which filled my heart when the light reappeared. The Natives on such occasions gave me a bright example: they ceased not in the hour of peril to call on God for safety and protection; and when refreshed by the return of calm, they forgot not that their helper was the merciful Being in whom they had trusted, and to whom they gave praise and thanksgiving.

The rainy season is at first hailed with a delight not easily to be explained. The long continuance of the hot winds,–during which period (three months or more) the sky is of the colour of copper, without the shadow of a cloud to shield the earth from the fiery heat of the sun, which has, in that time, scorched the earth and its inhabitants, stunted vegetation, and even affected the very houses–renders the season when the clouds pour out their welcome moisture a period which is looked forward to with anxiety, and received with universal joy.

The smell of the earth after the first shower is more dearly loved than the finest aromatics or the purest otta. Vegetation revives and human nature exults in the favourable shower. As long as the novelty lasts, and the benefit is sensibly felt, all seem to rejoice; but when the intervals of clouds without rain occur, and send forth, as they separate, the bright glare untempered by a passing breeze, poor weak human nature is too apt to revolt against the season they cannot control, and sometimes a murmuring voice is heard to cry out, ’Oh, when will the rainy season end!’

The thunder and lightning during the rainy season are beyond my ability to describe. The loud peals of thunder roll for several minutes in succession, magnificently, awfully grand. The lightning is proportionably vivid, yet with fewer instances of conveying the electric fluid to houses than might be expected when the combustible nature of the roofs is considered; the chief of which are thatched with coarse dry grass. The casualties are by no means frequent; and although trees surround most of the dwellings, yet we seldom hear of any injury by lightning befalling them or their habitations. Fiery meteors frequently fall; one within my recollection was a superb phenomenon, and was visible for several seconds.

The shocks from earthquakes are frequently felt in the Upper Provinces of India;[11] I was sensible of the motion on one occasion (rather a severe one), for at least twenty seconds. The effect on me, however, was attended with no inconvenience beyond a sensation of giddiness, as if on board ship in a calm, when the vessel rolls from side to side.

At Kannoge, now little more than a village in population, between Cawnpore and Futtyghur, I have rambled amongst the ruins of what formerly was an immense city, but which was overturned by an earthquake some centuries past. At the present period numerous relics of antiquity, as coins, jewels, &c., are occasionally discovered, particularly after the rains, when the torrents break down fragments of the ruins, and carry with the streams of water the long-buried mementos of the riches of former generations to the profit of the researching villagers, and to the gratification of curious travellers, who generally prove willing purchasers.[12]

I propose giving in another letter the remarks I was led to make on Kannoge during my pleasant sojourn in that retired situation, as it possesses many singular antiquities and contains the ashes of many holy Mussulmaun saints. The Mussulmauns, I may here observe, reverence the memory of the good and the pious of all persuasions, but more particularly those of their own faith. I have sketches of the lives and actions of many of their sainted characters, received through the medium of my husband and his most amiable father, that are both amusing and instructive; and notwithstanding their particular faith be not in accordance with our own, it is only an act of justice to admit, that they were men who lived in the fear of God, and obeyed his commandments according to the instruction they had received; and which, I hope, may prove agreeable to my readers when they come to those pages I have set apart for such articles.

My catalogue of the trying circumstances attached to the comforts which are to be met with in India are nearly brought to a close; but I must not omit mentioning one ’blessing in disguise’ which occurs annually, and which affects Natives and Europeans indiscriminately, during the hot winds and the rainy season: the name of this common visitor is, by Europeans, called ’the prickly heat’; by Natives it is denominated ’Gurhum dahnie’[13] (warm rash). It is a painful irritating rash, often spreading over the whole body, mostly prevailing, however, wherever the clothes screen the body from the power of the air; we rarely find it on the hands or face. I suppose it to be induced by excessive perspiration, more particularly as those persons who are deficient in this freedom of the pores, so essential to healthiness, are not liable to be distressed by the rash; but then they suffer more severely in their constitution by many other painful attacks of fever, &c. So greatly is this rash esteemed the harbinger of good health, that they say in India, ’the person so afflicted has received his life-lease for the year’; and wherever it does not make its appearance, a sort of apprehension is entertained of some latent illness.

Children suffer exceedingly from the irritation, which to scratch is dangerous. In Native nurseries I have seen applications used of pounded sandal-wood, camphor, and rose-water; with the peasantry a cooling earth, called mooltanie mittee,[14] similar to our fuller’s-earth, is moistened with water and plastered over the back and stomach, or wherever the rash mostly prevails; all this is but a temporary relief, for as soon as it is dry, the irritation and burning are as bad as ever.

The best remedy I have met with, beyond patient endurance of the evil, is bathing in rain-water, which soothes the violent sensations, and eventually cools the body. Those people who indulge most in the good things of this life are the greatest sufferers by this annual attack. The benefits attending temperance are sure to bring an ample reward to the possessors of that virtue under all circumstances, but in India more particularly; I have invariably observed the most abstemious people are the least subject to attacks from the prevailing complaints of the country, whether fever or cholera, and when attacked the most likely subjects to recover from those alarming disorders.

At this moment of anxious solicitude throughout Europe, when that awful malady, the cholera, is spreading from city to city with rapid strides, the observations I have been enabled to make by personal acquaintance with afflicted subjects in India, may be acceptable to my readers; although I heartily pray our Heavenly Father may in His goodness and mercy preserve our country from that awful calamity, which has been so generally fatal in other parts of the world.

The Natives of India designate cholera by the word ’Hyza’, which with them signifies ’the plague’. By this term, however, they do not mean that direful disorder so well known to us by the same appellation; as, if I except the Mussulmaun pilgrims, who have seen, felt, and described its ravages on their journey to Mecca, that complaint seems to be unknown to the present race of Native inhabitants of Hindoostaun. The word ’hyza’, or ’plague’, would be applied by them to all complaints of an epidemic or contagious nature by which the population were suddenly attacked, and death ensued. When the cholera first appeared in India (which I believe was in 1817), it was considered by the Natives a new complaint.[15]

In all cases of irritation of the stomach, disordered bowels, or severe feverish symptoms, the Mussulmaun doctors strongly urge the adoption of ’starving out the complaint’. This has become a law of Nature with all the sensible part of the community; and when the cholera first made its appearance in the Upper Provinces of Hindoostaun, those Natives who observed their prescribed temperance were, when attacked, most generally preserved from the fatal consequences of the disorder.

On the very first symptom of cholera occurring in a member of a Mussulmaun family, a small portion of zahur morah[16] (derived from zahur, poison; morah, to kill or destroy, and thence understood as an antidote to poison, some specimens of which I have brought with me to England) moistened with rosewater, is promptly administered, and, if necessary, repeated at short intervals; due care being taken to prevent the patient from receiving anything into the stomach, excepting rosewater, the older the more efficacious in its property to remove the malady. Wherever zahur morah was not available, secun-gebeen[17] (syrup of vinegar) was administered with much the same effect. The person once attacked, although the symptoms should have subsided by this application, is rigidly deprived of nourishment for two or three days, and even longer if deemed expedient; occasionally allowing only a small quantity of rose-water, which they say effectually removes from the stomach and bowels those corrupt adhesions which, in their opinion, is the primary cause of the complaint.

The cholera, I observed, seldom attacked abstemious people; when, however, this was the case, it generally followed a full meal; whether of rice or bread made but little difference, much I believe depending on the general habit of the subject; as among the peasantry and their superiors the complaint raged with equal malignity, wherever a second meal was resorted to whilst the person had reason to believe the former one had not been well digested. An instance of this occurred under my own immediate observation in a woman, the wife of an old and favourite servant. She had imprudently eaten a second dinner, before her stomach, by her own account, had digested the preceding meal. She was not a strong woman, but in tolerable good health; and but a few hours previous to the attack I saw her in excellent spirits, without the most remote appearance of indisposition. The usual applications failed of success, and she died in a few hours. This poor woman never could be persuaded to abstain from food at the stated period of meals; and the Natives were disposed to conclude that this had been the actual cause of her sufferings and dissolution.

In 1821 the cholera raged with even greater violence than on its first appearance in Hindoostaun; by that time many remedies had been suggested, through the medium of the press, by the philanthropy and skill of European medical practitioners, the chief of whom recommended calomel in large doses, from twenty to thirty grains, and opium proportioned to the age and strength of the patient. I never found the Natives, however, willing to accept this as a remedy, but I have heard that amongst Europeans it was practised with success. From a paragraph which I read in the Bengal papers, I prepared a mixture that I have reason to think, through the goodness of Divine Providence, was beneficial to many poor people who applied for it in the early stages of the complaint, and who followed the rule laid down of complete abstinence, until they were out of danger from a relapse, and even then for a long time to be cautious in the quantity and digestible quality of their daily meal. The mixture was as follows:

Brandy, one pint; oil or spirit of peppermint, if the former half an ounce–if the latter, one ounce; ground black pepper, two ounces; yellow rind of oranges grated, without any of the white, one ounce; these were kept closely stopped and occasionally shook, a table-spoonful administered for each dose, the patient well covered up from the air, and warmth created by blankets or any other means within their power, repeating the close as the case required.

Of the many individuals who were attacked with this severe malady in our house very few died, and those, it was believed, were victims to an imprudent determination to partake of food before they were convalescent,–individuals who never could be prevailed on to practise abstemious habits, which we had good reason for believing was the best preventive against the complaint during those sickly seasons. The general opinion entertained both by Natives and Europeans, at those awful periods, was, that the cholera was conveyed in the air; very few imagined that it was infectious, as it frequently attacked some members of a family and the rest escaped, although in close attendance–even such as failed not to pay the last duties to the deceased according to Mussulmaun custom, which exposed them more immediately to danger if infection existed;–yet no fears were ever entertained, nor did I ever hear an opinion expressed amongst them, that it had been or could be conveyed from one person to another.

Native children generally escaped the attack, and I never heard of an infant being in the slightest degree visited by this malady. It is, however, expedient, to use such precautionary measures as sound sense and reason may suggest, since wherever the cholera has appeared, it has proved a national calamity, and not a partial scourge to a few individuals; all are alike in danger of its consequences, whether the disorder be considered infectious or not, and therefore the precautions I have urged in India, amongst the Native communities, I recommend with all humility here, that cleanliness and abstemious diet be observed among all classes of people.

In accordance with the prescribed antidote to infection from scarlet fever in England, I gave camphor (to be worn about the person) to the poor in my vicinity, and to all the Natives over whom I had either influence or control; I caused the rooms to be frequently fumigated with vinegar or tobacco, and labaun[18] (frankincense) burnt occasionally. I would not, however, be so presumptuous to insinuate even that these were preventives to cholera, yet in such cases of universal terror as the one in question, there can be no impropriety in recommending measures which cannot injure, and may benefit, if only by giving a purer atmosphere to the room inhabited by individuals either in sickness or in health. But above all things, aware that human aid or skill can never effect a remedy unaided by the mercy and power of Divine Providence, let our trust be properly placed in His goodness, ’who giveth medicine to heal our sickness’, and humbly intreat that He may be pleased to avert the awful calamity from our shores which threatens and disturbs Europe generally at this moment.

Were we to consult Nature rather than inordinate gratifications, we should find in following her dictates the best security to health at all times, but more particularly in seasons of prevailing sickness. Upon the first indications of cholera, I have observed the stomach becomes irritable, the bowels are attacked by griping pains, and unnatural evacuations; then follow sensations of faintness, weakness, excessive thirst, the pulse becomes languid, the surface of the body cold and clammy, whilst the patient feels inward burning heat, with spasms in the legs and arms.

In the practice of Native doctors, I have noticed that they administer saffron to alleviate violent sickness with the best possible effect. A case came under my immediate observation, of a young female who had suffered from a severe illness similar in every way to the cholera; it was not, however, suspected to be that complaint, because it was not then prevailing at Lucknow: after some days the symptoms subsided, excepting the irritation of her stomach, which, by her father’s account, obstinately rejected everything offered for eleven days. When I saw her, she was apparently sinking under exhaustion; I immediately tendered the remedy recommended by my husband, viz. twelve grains of saffron, moistened with a little rose-water; and found with real joy that it proved efficacious; half the quantity in doses were twice repeated that night, and in the morning the patient was enabled to take a little gruel, and in a reasonable time entirely recovered her usual health and strength.

I have heard of people being frightened into an attack of cholera by apprehending the evil: this, however, can only occur with very weak minds, and such as have neglected in prosperity to prepare their hearts for adversity. When I first reached India, the fear of snakes, which I expected to find in every path, embittered my existence. This weakness was effectually corrected by the wise admonitions of Meer Hadjee Shaah, ’If you trust in God, he will preserve you from every evil; be assured the snake has no power to wound without permission.’

[1] The Cantharis resicatoria is imported into India for use in blisters.
    But there is a local substitute, mylabris, of which there are
    several varieties (Watt, Economic Dictionary, ii. 128, v. 309).

[2] The reference is perhaps to what is known as the Dehli Boil, a form
    of oriental sore, like the Biskra Button, Aleppo Evil, Lahore and
    Multan Sore (Yule, Hobson-Jobson, 302); possibly only to
    hot-weather boils.

[3] Chadar.

[4] For a good account of the ways of Indian ants, see M. Thornton, Haunts and Hobbies of an Indian Official, 2 ff.

[5] Khidmatgar.

[6] The habit of laying sugar near ants’ nests is a piece of fertility
    magic, and common to Jains and Vishnu-worshippers; see J. Fryor, A
    New Account of East India and Persia, Hakluyt Society ed., I, 278.

[7] Pipal, Ficus religiosa.

[8] An esteemed friend has since referred me to the second chapter of the
    prophet Joel, part of the seventh and eighth verses, as a better
    comparison. [Author.]

[9] The variety of locust seen in India is acridium peregrinum, which is
    said to range throughout the arid region from Algeria to N.W. India.
    They have extended as far south as the Kistna District of Madras (Watt,
    Economic Dictionary, VI, part i, 154).

[10] Tufan, storm, andhi, darkness.

[11] Earthquakes tend generally to be more frequent in the regions of
    extra-peninsular India, where the rocks have been more recently folded,
    than in the more stable Peninsula. Serious earthquakes have occurred
    recently in Assam, June, 1897, and in Kangra, Panjab, April,
    1907. (Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1907, i. 98 f.)

[12] Kanauj, in the Farrukhabad District, United Provinces of Agra
    and Oudh. The ruin of the great city was due to attacks by Mahmud
    of Ghazni, A.D. 1019, and by Shihab-ud-din, Muhammad Ghori,
    in 1194.

[13] Garm dahani, hot inflammation, prickly heat.

[14] Multani mitti, ’Multan Earth’, a soft, drab-coloured
    saponaceous earth, like fuller’s earth, used in medicine and for
    cleansing the hair.

[15] Cholera (haiza) was known to the Hindus long before the arrival of
    the Portuguese, who first described it (Yule, Hobson-Jobson[2], 586
    ff.). The attention of English physicians was first seriously called
    to it in 1817, when it broke out in the Jessore District of Bengal,
    and in the camp of Marquess Hastings in the Datiya State, Central
    India. (See Sleeman, Rambles, 163, 232.)

[16] Zahr-mohra, ’poison vanguard’: the bezoar stone, believed to be an antidote to poison (Yule, Hobson-Jobson[2], 90 f.).

[17] Sikanjabin, oxymel, vinegar, lime-juice, or other acid, mixed with sugar or honey.

[18] Loban.


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

[Buy at Amazon]
Observations on the Mussulmauns of India (Large Print Edition)
By Mrs. Meer Hassan Ali
At Amazon