Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
By Meer Hassan Ali

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Letter XXI

Natural Productions of India.–Trees, shrubs, plants, fruits, &c.–Their different uses and medicinal qualities.–The Rose.–Native medical practice.–Antidote to Hydrophobia.–Remedy for the venom of the Snake.–The Chitcherah (Inverted thorn).–The Neam-tree.–The Hurrundh (Castor-tree).–The Umultass (Cassia-tree).–The Myrtle.–The Pomegranate.–The Tamarind.–The Jahmun.–The Mango.–The Sherrefah.–White and red Guavers.–The Damascus Fig.–The Peach, and other Fruits.–The Mahdhaar (Fire-plant).–The Sirrakee and Sainturh (Jungle-grass).–The Bamboo, and its various uses enumerated.

In Europe we are accustomed to cultivate the rose merely as an ornament of the garden. This is not the case with my Indian acquaintance; they cultivate the rose as a useful article, essential to their health, and conducive to their comfort.

The only rose I have ever seen them solicitous about is the old-fashioned ’hundred-leaf’ or cabbage-rose’.[1] Where-ever a Mussulmaun population congregate these are found planted in enclosed fields. In the month of September, the rose trees are cut down to within eight inches of the surface of the earth, and the cuttings carefully planted in a sheltered situation for striking, to keep up a succession of young trees. By the first or second week in December the earliest roses of the season are in bloom on the new wood, which has made its way from the old stock in this short period. Great care is taken in gathering the roses to preserve every bud for a succession. A gardener in India is distressed when the Beeby Sahibs[2] (English ladies) pluck roses, aware that buds and all are sacrificed at once. I shall here give a brief account of the several purposes to which the rose is applied.

Rose-water is distilled in most Mussulmaun families as a medicine and an indispensable luxury. For medicine, it is administered in all cases of indigestion and pains of the stomach or bowels,–the older the rose-water the more effectual the remedy. I have been accustomed to see very old rose-water administered in doses of a wine-glass full, repeated frequently, in cases of cholera morbus and generally with good effect, when the patient has applied the remedy in time and due care has been observed in preventing the afflicted person from taking any other liquid until the worst symptoms have subsided. This method of treatment may not accord with the views of professional men generally; however, I only assert what I have repeatedly seen, that it has been administered to many members of my husband’s family with the best possible effect. On one occasion, after eating a hearty dinner, Meer Hadjee Shaah was attacked with cholera; rose-water was administered, with a small portion of the stone called zahur morah. In his agony, he complained of great thirst, when rose-water was again handed to him, and continued at intervals of half-an-hour during the day and part of the night. In the morning, the pain and symptoms had greatly subsided; he was, notwithstanding, restrained from taking any liquid or food for more than forty-eight hours, except occasionally a little rose-water; and when his Native doctors permitted him to receive nourishment, he was kept on very limited portions of arrow-root for several days together. At the end of about eight days (the fever having been entirely removed) chicken-broth was allowed, and at first without bread; solids, indeed, were only permitted when all fears of a relapse had ceased, and even then but partially for some time, fearing the consequences to the tender state of the bowels. Such persons as are abstemious and regard the quality of their daily food are most likely to recover from the attack of this awful scourge. Very young children are rarely amongst the sufferers by cholera; the adults of all classes are most subject to it in India; indeed, I do not find the aged or the youthful, either male or female, preponderate in the number attacked; but those who live luxuriously suffer most. Amongst the Natives, it is difficult to prevail on them to forego their usual meals, particularly amongst the lower orders: if they feel rather inconvenienced by heartburns or other indications of a disordered stomach, they cannot resist eating again and again at the appointed hours, after which strong symptoms of cholera usually commence. I never heard of one case occurring after a good night’s rest, but invariably after eating, either in the morning or the evening.

My remarks have drawn me from my subject, by explaining the supposed medicinal benefits of rose-water, which as a luxury is highly valued in India. It is frequently used by the Natives in preparing their sweet dishes, is added to their sherbet, sprinkled over favoured guests, used to cleanse the mouth-piece of the hookha, and to cool the face and hands in very hot weather. Although they abstain from the use of rose-water, externally and internally, when suffering from a cold,–they fancy smelling a rose will produce a cold, and I have often observed in India, that smelling a fresh rose induces sneezing,[3]–yet, at all other times, this article is in general use in respectable Mussulmaun families. Dried rose-leaves and cassia added to infusions of senna, is a family medicine in general request.

The fresh rose-leaves are converted by a very simple process into a conserve, which is also used as a medicine; it is likewise an essential article, with other ingredients, in the preparation of tobacco for their luxurious hookha.

A syrup is extracted from the fresh rose, suited admirably to the climate of India as an aperient medicine, pleasant to the taste and mild in its effects. A table-spoon full is considered a sufficient dose for adults.

The seed of the rose is a powerful astringent, and often brought into use in cases of extreme weakness of the bowels. The green leaves are frequently applied pounded as a cold poultice to inflamed places with much the same effect as is produced in England from golard-water.[4]

The oil or otta of roses is collected from the rose-water when first distilled. Persons intending to procure the otta, have the rose-water poured into dishes while warm from the still: this remains undisturbed twenty-four hours, when the oily substance is discovered on the surface as cream on milk; this is carefully taken off, bottled, the mouth closed with wax, and then exposed to the burning rays of the sun for several days. The rose-water is kept in thin white glass bottles, and placed in baskets for a fortnight, either on the roofs of houses or on a grass-plot; or wherever the sun by day and the dew by night may be calculated on, which act on the rose-water and induce that fragrant smell so peculiar to that of India.

I have elsewhere remarked that the Native medical practice is strictly herbal; minerals are strongly objected to as pernicious in after consequences, although they may prove effectual in removing present inconvenience. Quicksilver[5] is sometimes resorted to by individuals, but without the sanction of their medical practitioners. They have no notion of the anatomy of the human body, beyond a few ideas suggested in the old Grecian school of medicine, in favour of which they are strongly prejudiced. They, however, are said to perform extraordinary cures by simple treatment, many cases of severe fever occurred under my own observation, which were removed, I really believe, by strict attention to diet, or rather starving the enemy from its strong hold, than by any of the medicines administered to the patients. If any one is attacked by fever, his medical adviser inquires the day and the hour it commenced, by which he is guided in prescribing for the patient. On the borehaun[6] (critical days) as the third, fifth, and seventh, after the fever commences, nothing could induce the medical doctor to let blood or administer active medicines; there only remains then for the patient to be debarred any kind of food or nourishment, and that duly observed, the fever is often thrown off without a single dose of medicine. By three or four days of most strict abstinence, and such simple nourishment as the thinnest gruel or barley water,–the latter made from the common field barley, very sparingly allowed, the patient is rendered convalescent.

The Natives of India profess to have found an antidote to, and cure for, hydrophobia in the reetah[7] berry, described as a saponaceous nut. I have never seen a case of hydrophobia, but it is by no means uncommon, I understand. They always advise that the person bitten by a rabid animal, should have the limb promptly tied up with a bandage above and below the bite; the wound, as speedily as possible, to be seared with a red-hot iron, and a few doses of the reetah berry with a portion of soap administered. The berry is well known for its good property in cleansing and softening the hair, for which purpose it is generally found in the bathing-rooms both of the European and Native ladies.

The Native remedy for snake bites, is called neellah tootee[8] (blue vitrol): if from eight to twelve grains be administered in ghee or butter immediately after the bite is received, the happiest results will follow. A person in our family was bitten by a snake, but neglected to apply for the remedy for more than half an hour after the accident, when his own expressions were, that ’he suffered great uneasiness in his body, and his faculties seemed darkened;’ half a masha, about eight grains of blue stone, was now given in ghee. In a few hours he was apparently quite well again, and for several days he found no other inconvenience than a slight numbness in the hand which had been bitten by the snake.

This person had occasion soon after to leave home, and had exerted himself unusually by walking, when he found the same symptoms of uneasiness return; he hurried to a house where he was known, and requested to be supplied with a certain quantity of blue stone without delay. He had sense enough remaining to explain for what purpose he required it, when the person applied to objected to furnish him with the poisonous article. The remedy, however, was ultimately procured, taken, and in a few hours he was recovered sufficiently to return home. He never found the symptoms return again to my recollection.

The chitcherah[9] (inverted thorn), is a shrub common to India, which bears small grains not unlike rice; these seeds are poisonous in their natural state, but when properly prepared with a portion of urzeez[10]–(tin), it becomes a useful medicine; and in particular cases of scrofula, which have resisted all other remedies offered by the medical practitioners, the Natives tell me this has proved an effectual remedy; and my informant, a Native doctor, assures me that three doses, of three grains each, is all he finds necessary to give his patient in scrofula cases.

The chitcherah in its green state is resorted to as a remedy for the sting of scorpions: when applied to the wound, which is often much inflamed and very painful, the cure is prompt. The scorpion runs from this shrub when held to it, as if it were frightened: many people declare scorpions are never met with in the grounds where the chitcherah grows.

The neam-tree[11] is cultivated near the houses of Natives generally, in the Upper Provinces, because, as they affirm, it is very conducive to health, to breathe the air through the neam-trees. This tree is not very quick of growth, but reaches a good size. When it has attained its full height, the branches spread out as luxuriantly as the oak and supplies an agreeable shelter from the sun. The bark is rough; the leaves long, narrow, curved, pointed, and with saw teeth edges; both the wood and leaves partake of the same disagreeable bitter flavour. The green leaves are used medicinally as a remedy for biles; after being pounded they are mixed with water and taken as a draught; they are also esteemed efficacious as poultices and fomentations for tumours, &c. The young twigs are preferred by all classes of the Natives for tooth-brushes.

The hurrundh,[12] or castor-tree, is cultivated by farmers in their corn-fields throughout Hindoostaun. This tree seldom exceeds in its growth the height of an English shrub. The bark is smooth; the leaf, in shape, resembles the sycamore, but of a darker green. The pods containing the seed grow in clusters like grapes, but of a very different appearance, the surface of each pod being rough, thorny, and of a dingy red cast when ripe. The seed produces the oil, which is in common use as a powerful medicine, for men and animals. In remote stations, where any difficulty exists in procuring cocoa-nut oil, the castor oil is often rendered useful for burning in lamps; the light, however, produced by it is very inferior to the oil of cocoa-nut. The green leaves are considered cooling to wounds or inflamed places, and therefore used with ointment after the blister-plaster is removed.

As I have seen this tree growing in corn-fields, I may here remark that the farmer’s motives for cultivating it originate in the idea that his crops are benefited by a near vicinity to the hurrundh. It is also very common to observe a good row of the plant called ulsee[13](linseed), bordering a plantation of wheat or barley: they fancy this herb preserves the blade healthy, and the corn from blight.

The umultass[14] (cassia) is a large and handsome forest tree, producing that most useful drug in long dark pods, several inches long, which hang from the branches in all directions, giving a most extraordinary appearance to the tree. The seed is small and mixed with the pulp, which dissolves in water, and is in general use with the Natives as a powerful and active medicine in bilious cases. I am not, however, aware that the seed possesses any medicinal property: it certainly is not appropriated to such cases in Hindoostaun.

Myrtle-trees,[15] under many different names, and of several kinds, are met with in India, of an immense size compared with those grown in Europe. They are cultivated for their known properties, rather than as mere ornaments to the garden. The leaves, boiled in water, are said to be of service to the hair; the root and branches are considered medicinal.

The pomegranate-tree[16] may be ranked amongst the choicest beauties of Asiatic horticulture; and when its benefits are understood, no one wonders that a tree or two is to be seen in almost every garden and compound of the Mussulmaun population in India.

The finest fruit of this sort is brought, however, from Persia and Cabul, at a great expense; and from the general estimation in which it is held, the merchants annually import the fruit in large quantities. There are two sorts, the sweet and the acid pomegranate, each possessing medicinal properties peculiar to itself. Sherbet is made from the juice, which is pressed out, and boiled up with sugar or honey to a syrup; thus prepared it keeps good for any length of time, and very few families omit making their yearly supply, as it constitutes a great luxury in health, and a real benefit in particular disorders. The Natives make many varieties of sherbet from the juices of their fruits, as the pine-apple, falsah,[17] mango, or any other of the same succulent nature, each having properties to recommend it beyond the mere pleasantness of its flavour.

An admirer of Nature must be struck with the singular beauty of the pomegranate-tree, so commonly cultivated in India. The leaves are of a rich dark green, very glossy, and adorned at the same time with every variety of bud, bloom, and fruit, in the several stages of vegetation, from the first bud to the ripe fruit in rich luxuriance, and this in succession nearly throughout the year. The bright scarlet colour of the buds and blossoms seldom vary in their shades; but contrasted with the glossy dark green foliage, the effect excites wonder and admiration. There is a medicinal benefit to be derived from every part of this tree from its root upwards, each part possessing a distinct property, which is employed according to the Native knowledge and practice of medicine.

Even the falling blossoms are carefully collected, and when made into a conserve, are administered successfully in cases of blood-spitting.

The tamarind-tree may often be discovered sheltering the tomb of revered or sainted characters; but I am not aware of any particular veneration entertained towards this tree by the general population of India, beyond the benefit derived from the medicinal properties of the fruit and the leaves.[18]

The ripe fruit, soaked in salt and water, to extract the juices, is strained, and administered as a useful aperient; and from its quality in cleansing the blood, many families prefer this fruit in their curries to other acids. From the tamarind-tree, preserves are made for the affluent, and chatnee for the poor, to season their coarse barley unleavened cakes, which form their daily meal, and with which they seem thoroughly contented.

From what cause I know not, but it is generally understood that vegetation does not thrive in the vicinity of the tamarind-tree. Indeed, I have frequently heard the Natives account for the tamarind being so often planted apart from other trees, because they fancy vegetation is always retarded in their vicinity.

The jahmun-tree[19] is also held in general estimation for the benefit of the fruit, which, when ripe, is eaten with salt, and esteemed a great luxury, and in every respect preferable to olives. The fruit, in its raw state, is a powerful astringent, and possesses many properties not generally known out of Native society, which may excuse my mentioning them here. The fruit, which is about the size and colour of the damson-plum, when ripe is very juicy, and makes an excellent wine, not inferior in quality to port. The Natives, however, are not permitted by their law to drink wine, and therefore this property in the fruit is of no benefit to them; but they encourage the practice of extracting the juice of jahmun for vinegar, which is believed to be the most powerful of all vegetable acids. The Native medical practitioners declare, that if by accident a hair has been introduced with food into the stomach, it can never digest of itself, and will produce both pain and nausea to the individual. On such occasions they administer jahmun vinegar, which has the property of dissolving any kind of hair, and the only thing they are aware of that will. Sherbet is made of this vinegar, and is often taken in water either immediately after dinner, or when digestion is tardy.

The skin of the jahmun produces a permanent dye of a bright lilac colour, and with the addition of urzeez (tin), a rich violet. The effect on wool I have never tried, but on silks and muslins the most beautiful shades have been produced by the simplest process possible, and so permanent, that the colour resisted every attempt to remove it by washing, &c.[20]

The mango-tree stands pre-eminently high in the estimation of the Natives, and this is not to be wondered at when the various benefits derived from it are brought under consideration. It is magnificent in its growth, and splendid in its foliage, and where a plantation of mango-trees, called ’a tope’, is met with, that spot is preferred by travellers on which to pitch their tent. The season of blooming is about February and March; the aromatic scent from the flowers is delightful, and the beautiful clustering of the blossoms is not very unlike the horse-chestnut in appearance and size, but branching horizontally. The young mangoes are gathered for preserves and pickles before the stone is formed; the full-grown unripe fruit is peeled, split, and dried, for seasoning curries, &c. The ripe fruit spoken of in a former Letter requires no further commendation, neither will it admit of comparison with any European fruits. The kernels, when ripe, are often dried and ground into flour for bread in seasons of scarcity. The wood is useful as timber for doors, rafters, &c., and the branches and leaves for fuel; in short, there is no part of the whole tree but is made useful in some way to man.

The sherrefah[21] (custard-apple) is produced on a very graceful tree, not, however, of any great size; the blossom nearly resembles that of the orange in colour and shape; the fruit ripens in the hottest months, and is similar in flavour to well-made custards. The skin is of a dusky pea-green rough surface, in regular compartments; each division or part containing a glossy black seed covered with the custard. This seed is of some utility amongst the lower order of Natives who have occasion to rid themselves of vermin at the expense of little labour; the seed is pounded fine and when mixed in the hair destroys the living plague almost instantly. The same article is often used with a hair-pencil to remove a cataract of the eye (they have no idea of surgical operations on the eye). There is one thing worthy of remark in this tree and its fruit, that flies are never known to settle on either; ants of every description feed on the fruit without injury, so that it cannot be imagined there is anything poisonous to insects, generally, in the quality of the fruit; yet, certain it is, the sherrefah is equally obnoxious to flies as the seed is destructive to vermin. The leaves and tender twigs are considered detrimental to health, if not actually poisonous to cattle.

The guaver,[23] white and red, are produced in the Upper Provinces; but the fruit is seldom so fine as in the Bengal district. The strong aromatic smell and flavour of this fruit is not agreeable to all tastes; in size and shape it resembles the quince.

The Damascus fig ripens well, and the fruit is superior to any I have met with in other countries. The indigenous fig-tree of Hindoostaun is one of the objects of Hindoo veneration. It has always been described to me by those Natives, as the sacred burbut,[24]–why? they could not explain. The fruit is very inferior.

The peach is cultivated in many varieties, and every new introduction repays the careful gardener’s skill by a rich and beautiful produce. They have a flat peach,[24] with a small round kernel (a native of China), the flavour of which is delicious, and the tree prolific.

I may here remark, that all those trees we are accustomed in Europe to designate wall-fruit, are in India pruned for standards. The only fruit allowed to trail on frames is the vine, of which they have many choice varieties; one in particular, of late introduction from Persia, has the remarkable peculiarity of being seedless, called ’Ba daanah’[25] (without seeds); the fruit is purple, round, and sweet as honey.

Peach, nectarine, and apricot trees, are cut down early in February, much in the same way as willows are docked in England: the new wood grows rapidly, and the fruit is ready for the table in the month of June. A tree neglected to be pruned in this way annually, would the first year yield but little, and that indifferent fruit, the tree become unhealthy, and, in most cases, never again restored to its former vigour.

Apple-trees are found chiefly in the gardens of Europeans; they are not perhaps as yet understood by Native gardeners, or it may be the climate is not favourable to them; certain it is, that the apples produced in Hindoostaun are not to be compared with those of other countries. Singular as it may seem, yet I have never met with more than one species of apple in my visits to the gardens of India. I have often fancied a fresh importation of English apple-trees would be worth the trouble of the transfer.[26]

The apple-trees grow tall and slender, the blossoms break out on the top of each branch in a cluster; the fruit, when ripe, is about the size of small crabs, and shaped like golden-pippins, without any acidity, but the sweetness rather resembles turnips than the well-flavoured apple. In the bazaars are to be met with what is called apple-preserve, which, however, is often a deception,–turnips substituted for apples.

Mulberries are indigenous, and of several varieties. The Native gardeners, however, take so little pains to assist or improve the operations of Nature, that the mulberry here is seldom so fine as in other countries. The common sort is produced on an immense tree with small leaves; the berry is long, and when ripe, of a yellow-green, very much resembling caterpillars in colour and form.

Plum-trees would thrive in Hindoostaun if introduced and cultivated,[27] since the few, chiefly the bullace-plum, I have seen, produce tolerably good fruit.

Cherries, I have never observed; they are known, however, by the name of ’glass’[28] to the travelling Natives, who describe them as common to Cashmire, Cabul, and Persia.

Gooseberries and currants are not known in India, but they have many good substitutes in the falsah, American sorrel, puppayah,[29] and a great variety of Chinese fruits–all of which make excellent tarts, preserves, and jellies. Strawberries and raspberries repay their cultivation in the Upper Provinces: they thrive well with proper care and attention.

The melon I have described elsewhere as an indigenous fruit greatly valued by the Natives, who cultivate the plant in the open fields without much trouble, and with very little expense; the varieties are countless, and every year adds to the number amongst the curious, who pride themselves on novelty in this article of general estimation.

The pine-apple requires very little pains to produce, and little demand on art in bringing it to perfection. The Bengal climate, however, suits it better than the dry soil of the Upper Provinces. I have frequently heard a superstitious objection urged by the Natives against this fruit being planted in their regular gardens; they fancy prosperity is checked by its introduction, or to use their own words,–’It is unfortunate to the proprietor of the garden.’

There is a beautiful shrub, called by the Natives, mahdhaar, or arg,[30]–literally, fire-plant,–met with in the Upper Provinces of India, inhabiting every wild spot where the soil is sandy, as generally as the thistle on neglected grounds in England.

The mahdhaar-plant seldom exceeds four feet in height, the branches spread out widely, the leaves are thick, round, and broad; the blossom resembles our dark auricula. When the seed is ripe, the pod presents a real treat to the lover of Nature. The mahdhaar pod may be designated a vegetable bag of pure white silk, about the size of large walnuts. The skin or bag being removed, flat seeds are discovered in layers over each other, resembling scales of fish; to each seed is affixed very fine white silk, about two inches long; this silk is defended from the air by the seed; the texture greatly resembles the silky hair of the Cashmire goat. I once had the mahdhaar silk collected, spun, and wove, merely as an experiment, which answered my full expectation: the article thus produced might readily be mistaken for the shawl stuff of Cashmire.[31]

The stalks of mahdhaar, when broken, pour out a milky juice at all seasons of the year, which falling on the skin produces blisters. The Natives bring this juice into use both for medicine and alchymy in a variety of ways.

The mahdhaar, as a remedy for asthma, is in great repute with the Natives; it is prepared in the following way:–The plants are collected, root, stalks, and leaves, and well dried by exposure to the sun; they are then burnt on iron plates, and the ashes thrown into a pan of water, where they remain for some days, until the water has imbibed the saline particles; it is then boiled in an iron vessel, until the moisture is entirely absorbed, and the salt only left at the bottom. The salt is administered in half-grain doses at the first, and increasing the quantity when the patient has become accustomed to its influence: it would be dangerous to add to the quantity suddenly.[32]

Another efficient remedy, both for asthma and obstinate continuance of a cough, is found in the salt extracted from tobacco-leaves, by a similar process, which is administered with the like precaution, and in the same quantities.

The sirrakee and sainturh[33] are two specimens of one genus of jungle-grass, the roots of which are called secundah,[34] or khus-khus,[35] and are collected on account of their aromatic smell, to form thatch tatties, or screens for the doors and windows; which being kept constantly watered, the strong wind rushing through the wet khus-khus is rendered agreeably cool, and produces a real luxury at the season of the hot winds, when every puff resembles a furnace-heat to those exposed to it by out-of-door occupation.

This grass presents so many proofs of the beneficent care of Divine Providence to the creatures of His hand, that the heart must be ungratefully cold which neglects praise and thanksgiving to the Creator, whose power and mercy bestows so great a benefit. The same might be justly urged against our insensibility, if the meanest herb or weed could speak to our hearts, each possessing, as it surely does, in its nature a beneficial property peculiar to itself. But here the blessing is brought home to every considerate mind, since a substitute for this article does not appear to exist in India.

I have seen the sainturh stalks, on which the bloom gracefully moves as feathers, sixteen feet high. The sirrakee has a more delicate blossom, finer stalk, and seldom, I believe, exceeds ten feet; the stalk resembles a reed, full of pith, without a single joint from the shoot upwards; the colour is that of clean wheat straw, but even more glossy. The blossom is of a silky nature possessing every variety of shade, from pure white to the rainbow’s tints, as viewed in the distance at sunrise; and when plucked the separated blossoms have many varieties of hue from brown and yellow, to purple.

The head or blossom is too light to weigh down the firm but flexible stalk; but as the wind presses against each patch of grass, it is moved in a mass, and returns to its erect position with a dignity and grace not to be described.

I have watched for the approaching season of the blooming sirrakee with an anxiety almost childish; my attention never tired with observing the progressive advances from the first show of blossom, to the period of its arriving at full perfection; at which time, the rude sickle of the industrious labourer levels the majestic grass to the earth for domestic purposes. The benefits it then produces would take me very long to describe.

The sirrakee and sainturh are stripped from the outward sheltering blades, and wove together at the ends; in this way they are used for bordering tatties, or thatched roofs; sometimes they are formed into screens for doors, others line their mud-huts with them. They are found useful in constructing accommodations after the manner of bulk-heads on boats for the river voyagers, and make a good covering for loaded waggons. For most of these purposes the article is well suited, as it resists moisture and swells as the wet falls on it, so that the heaviest rain may descend on a frame of sirrakee without one drop penetrating, if it be properly placed in a slanting position.

I cannot afford space to enumerate here the variety of purposes which this production of Nature is both adapted for and appropriated to; every part of the grass being carefully stored by the thrifty husbandman, even to the tops of the reed, which, when the blossom is rubbed off, is rendered serviceable, and proves an excellent substitute for that useful invention, a birch-broom. The coarse parent grass, which shelters the sirrakee, is the only article yet found to answer the purposes for thatching the bungalows of the rich, the huts of the poor, the sheds for cattle, and roofs for boats. The religious devotee sets up a chupha-hut,[36] without expense,–(all the house he requires,)–on any waste spot of land most convenient to himself, away from the busy haunts of the tumultuous world, since bamboo and grass are the common property of all who choose to take the trouble of gathering it from the wilderness. And here neither rent or taxes are levied on the inhabitant, who thus appropriates to himself a home from the bounteous provision prepared by Divine goodness for the children of Nature.

This grass is spontaneous in its growth, neither receiving or requiring aid from human cultivation. It is found in every waste throughout Hindoostaun, and is the prominent feature of the jungle, into which the wild animals usually resort for shelter from the heat of the day, or make their covert when pursued by man, their natural enemy.

The beneficence of Heaven has also exacted but little labour from the husbandman of India in procuring his daily provision. Indeed the actual wants of the lower order of Natives are few, compared with those of the same class in England; exertion has not, therefore, been called forth by necessity in a climate which induces habits of indulgence, ease, and quiet; where, however it may have surprised me at first, that I found not one single Native disposed to delight in the neat ordering of a flower-garden, I have since ascertained it is from their unwillingness to labour without a stronger motive than the mere gratification of taste.[37] Hence the uncultivated ground surrounding the cottages in India, which must naturally strike the mind of strangers with mingled feelings of pity and regret, when comparing the cottages of the English peasantry with those of the same classes of people in Hindoostaun.

The bamboo presents to the admirer of Nature no common specimen of her beautiful productions; and to the contemplating mind a wide field for wonder, praise, and gratitude. The graceful movements of a whole forest of these slender trees surpass all description; they must be witnessed in their uncultivated ground, as I have seen them, to be thoroughly understood or appreciated, for I do not recollect wood scenery in any other place that could convey the idea of a forest of bamboo.

The bamboos are seen in clusters, striking from the parent root by suckers, perhaps from fifty to a hundred in a patch, of all sizes; the tallest in many instances exceed sixty feet, with slender branches, and leaves in pairs, which are long, narrow, and pointed. The body of each bamboo is hollow and jointed, in a similar way to wheat stalks, with bands or knots, by which wonderful contrivance both are rendered strong and flexible, suited to the several designs of creative Wisdom. The bamboo imperceptibly tapers from the earth upwards. It is the variety of sizes in each cluster, however, which gives grace and beauty to the whole as they move with every breath of air, or are swayed by the strong wind.

Where space allows the experiment, the tallest bamboo may be brought down to a level with the earth, without snapping asunder. In the strong tempest the supple bamboo may be seen to bow submissively,–as the self-subdued and pliant mind in affliction,–and again rear its head uninjured by the storm, as the righteous man ’preserved by faith’ revives after each trial, or temptation.

The wood of the bamboo is hard, yet light, and possesses a fine grain, though fibrous. The outward surface is smooth and highly polished by Nature, and the knot very difficult to penetrate by any other means than a saw. The twigs or branches are covered with sharp thorns, in all probability a natural provision to defend the young trees from herbaceous animals. I have heard of the bamboo blossoming when arrived at full age; this I have, however, never seen, and cannot therefore presume to describe.[38]

In the hollow divisions of the bamboo is found, in small quantities, a pure white tasteless substance, called tawurshear,[39] which as a medicine is in great request with the Native doctors, who administer it as a sovereign remedy for lowness of spirits, and every disease of the heart, such as palpitations, &c. The tawurshear when used medicinally is pounded fine, and mixed up with gold and silver leaf, preserved quinces and apples, and the syrup of pomegranates, which is simmered over a slow fire until it becomes of the consistence of jam. It is taken before meals by the patient.

The bamboo is rendered serviceable to man in a countless variety of ways, both for use and ornament. The chuphas (thatched-roofs) of huts, cottages, or bungalows, are all constructed on frames of bamboo, to which each layer of grass is firmly fixed by laths formed of the same wood.

The only doors in poor people’s habitations are contrived from the same materials as the roof: viz., grass on bamboo frames, just sufficient to secure privacy and defend the inmates from cold air, or the nightly incursions of wolves and jackals. For the warm weather, screens are invented of split bamboos, either fine or coarse, as circumstances permit, to answer the purpose of doors, both for the rich and poor, whenever the house is so situated that these intruders may be anticipated at night.

The bamboo is made useful also in the kitchen as bellows by the aid of the cook’s breath; in the stable, to administer medicine to horses; and to the poor traveller, as a deposit for his oil, either for cooking or his lamp. To the boatman as sculls, masts, yards, and poles; besides affording him a covering to his boat, which could not be constructed with any other wood equally answering the same varied purpose of durability and lightness.

The carriers (generally of the bearer caste), by the help of a split bamboo over the shoulder, convey heavy loads suspended by cords at each end, from one part of India to the other, many hundred miles distant. No other wood could answer this purpose so well; the bamboo being remarkably light and of a very pliant nature lessens the fatigue to the bearer, whilst almost any wood sufficiently strong to bear the packages would fret the man’s shoulder and add burden to burden. The bearers do not like to carry more than twelve seer (twenty-four pounds) slung by ropes at each end of their bamboo for any great distance; but, I fear, they are not always allowed the privilege of thinking for themselves in these matters.

When a hackery[40] (sort of waggon) is about to be loaded with of corn or goods, a railing is formed by means of bamboos to admit the luggage; thus rendering the waggon itself much lighter than if built of solid wood, an object of some moment, when considering the smallness of the cattle used for draught, oxen of a small breed being in general use for waggons, carts, ploughs, &c. I have never seen horses harnessed to any vehicle in India, except to such gentlemen’s carriages as are built on the English principle.

The Native carriages of ladies and travellers are indebted to the bamboo for all the wood used in the construction of the body, which is merely a frame covered with cloth, shaped in several different ways,–some square, others double cones, &c.

Baskets of every shape and size, coarse or fine, are made of the split bamboo; covers for dinner trays, on which the food is sent from the kitchen to the hall; cheese-presses, punkahs, and screens, ingeniously contrived in great varieties; netting-needles and pins, latches and bolts for doors; skewers and spits; umbrella sticks, and walking canes; toys in countless ways, and frames for needle-work.

A long line of etceteras might here be added as to the number of good purposes to which the bamboo is adapted and appropriated in Native economy; I must not omit that even the writing-paper on which I first practised the Persian character was manufactured from the bamboo, which is esteemed more durable, but not so smooth as their paper made from cotton. The young shoots of bamboo are both pickled and preserved by the Natives, and esteemed a great luxury when produced at meals with savoury pillaus, &c.

I am told, a whole forest of bamboo has sometimes been consumed by fire, ignited by their own friction in a heavy storm, and the blaze fanned by the opposing wind; the devouring element, under such circumstances, could be stayed only when there ceased to be a tree to feed the flame.

[1] The Indian rose-water is made principally from Rosa damascena about
    Ghazipur in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. It has no
    medicinal value, but is used as a vehicle for other mixtures (Watt,
    Economic Dictionary, VI, part i. 560 ff.).

[2] Bibi Sahiba. ’On the principle of the degradation of titles
    which is general, this word in application to European ladies has been
    superseded  by the hybrid Mem Sahib or Madam Sahib, though it
    is often applied to European maid-servants or other Englishwomen of
    that rank of life’ (Yule, Hobson-Jobson[2], 78).

[3] It is one of the flowers which produce pollen catarrh. Pope’s
    suggestion that a man with a hypersensitive nervous system might ’die
    of a rose in aromatic pain’, is not an impossible contingency.

[4] Goulard water, named after Thomas Goulard, a French surgeon: a
    solution of sub-acetate of lead, used as a lotion in cases of
    inflammation (New English Dictionary, s.v.).

[5] P. 235.

[6] Not in Platts’ Hindustani Dictionary: probably barhan, increasing.

[7] Ritha, the berry of the soap-nut tree, Sapindus trifoliatus or mukorossi. (Watt, Economic Dict., vol. vi, part ii, 468.)

[8] Nila tutiya, copper sulphate: used as an emetic in cases of poisoning, but not now recognized as a remedy for snake-bite.

[9] Chichra, Achryanthes aspera (Watt, i. 81).

[10] Arziz.

[11] Nim, Melia Azadirachta. The belief that it is a prophylactic
    against fever and cholera is held even by some Europeans
    (Watt, v. 217).

[12] Arand, Ricinus communis.

[13] Alsi, Linum usitatissimum. [14] Amaltas, Cassia fistula. The pulp of the fruit and the root-bark form the most useful domestic medicine, a simple purgative.

[15] Myrtus communis.

[16] Punica Granatum. The best varieties of the fruit come from Afghanistan and Persia.

[17] Phalsa, falsa, Grewia asiatica.

[18] The shade of the tree is supposed to be unhealthy to men, animals,
    and plants, as it is believed to be haunted by spirits, and it is
    worshipped on a day known as ’Tamarind Eleventh’.

[19] See p. 194.

[20] Watt, however, writes: ’Tin is a highly important metal in dyeing as
    practised in Europe, but in this respect is apparently unknown to the
    natives of India.’ (Watt, Economic Dictionary, vol. vi, part iv, 60.)

[21] Sharifa, Anona squamosa.

[22] Guava.

[23] Bargat, the banyan-tree.

[24] Pyrus persica.

[25] Be-danah. [26] Excellent apples are now grown on the lower Himalayas.

[27] Prunus communis grows in the lower Himalayas and as far down as Saharanpur, but the fruit is inferior.

[28] The sweet or wild cherry, Prunus avium, is called gilas in the Hills.

[29] Papaiya, the papau tree, Carica papaya, has the curious property of making meat tender, if placed near it.

[30] Madar, ak. The latter term is derived from Sanskrit arka, ’the sun’, on account of the fiery colour of its flowers.

[31] The plant yields a silk cotton from the seeds and a rich white bass
    fibre from the bark, both likely to be of commercial value (Watt, ii.
    38 ff.)

[32] Used in equal proportions with black pepper, the fresh blossoms are a
    useful and cheap remedy for asthma, hysteria, and epilepsy (ibid. ii.
    44 ff).

[33] Sirki is the upper portion of the blossoming stem, and sentha the lower portion of the reed grass Saccharum ciliare (ibid. vi, part ii, 2.)

[34] Sarkanda is the Panjab name for the grass Saccharum
    arundinaceum, but it is also applied to Saccharum ciliare in last
    note (ibid. vi, part ii, 1 f.).

[35] Khaskhas, used for screens, is the root of the grass Andropogon muricatus (ibid. i, 245 ff.)

[36] Chhappar.

[37] This is true of the higher class Musalmans; but there were
    splendid gardens in the palaces of the Moghul Emperors: see C.M.
    Villiers Stuart, The Gardens of the Great Mughals, 1913.

[38] The subject of the flowering of the bamboo has been investigated by
    Sir G. Watt, who writes: ’A bamboo may not flower before it has
    attained a certain age, but its blossoming is not fixed so arbitrarily
    that it cannot be retarded or accelerated by climatic influences. It
    is an undoubted fact that the flowering of the bamboo is decided by
    causes which bring about famine, for the providential supply of food
    from this source has saved the lives of thousands of persons during
    several of the great famines of India.’ Hence the provision of the
    edible seeds by the extension of bamboo cultivation has been
    recommended as a means of mitigating distress (Economic Dictionary,
    vol. i, 373 ff., 386).

[39] Tabashir, bamboo manna, is a siliceous substance found in the
    joints of the bamboo: considered cooling, toxic, aphrodisiac and
    pectoral, but as a medicinal agent it is inert (ibid. i. 384, Yule,
    Hobson-Jobson[2], 887).

[40] A bullock carriage, Hindustani chhakra (Yule, Hobson-Jobson[2], 407 f.).


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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