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Chapter 42

Kerman--The Ark or citadel--Civility of the
natives--Europeans--The British Consulate--Major Phillott--H. E.
Ala-el-Mulk, Governor of Kerman--Soldiers--Teaching music to
recruits--Preparation for the campaign against the Beluch--Cloth

It was my intention to pay my respects to the British Consul for whom I had letters of introduction from the Minister at Teheran, and I at once proceeded through the city, entering first the "Ark" or citadel, and then the south-west gate with two side columns of green and blue tiles in a spiral design and pointed archway, into the Meidan--a fine rectangular square of great length and breadth. Sentries posted at the gates of the city and at the sides of the square saluted, and also many of the people along the road. This extraordinary civility was very refreshing in a country where one only expects extreme rudeness from the lower classes.

We entered the vaulted bazaar, the main big artery of Kerman city, intersected about half-way by a tortuous street from north to south and by other minor narrow lanes, and crowded with people, donkeys, camels and mules; and here, too, one was rather surprised to see various merchants get up in their shops salaaming as I passed, and to receive a "Salameleko" and a bow from most men on the way. The bazaar itself, being in appearance more ancient than those of Yezd, Isfahan and Teheran, was more alluring and had many quaint bits. It bore, however, very much the same characteristics as all other bazaars of Persia. At the end of it on the north-east we emerged into an open space with picturesque awnings, suspended mats, and spread umbrellas shading innumerable baskets of delicious green figs, trays of grapes, and pomegranates, piles of water-melons and vegetables of all sorts.

No Europeans live within the wall of Kerman city itself, and at the time of my visit there were only four Europeans altogether residing in the neighbourhood of the town. Two missionaries, husband and wife; a gentleman who, misled by representations, had been induced to come from India to dig artesian wells at great expense--in a country where the natives are masters at finding water and making aqueducts--and our most excellent Consul, Major Phillott, one of the most practical and sensible men that ever lived.

The Consulate was at Zeris or Zirisf, some little distance to the east of the town. We passed through a graveyard on leaving the inhabited district, and had in front of us some ancient fortifications on the rocky hills to the south, which we skirted, and then came to some huge conical ice-houses--very old, but still in excellent preservation. We passed the solidly-built and foreign-looking gateway of the Bagh-i-Zeris, and a little further at the end of a short avenue the British flag could be seen flying upon a gate.

As I came upon him a ragged infantry soldier, who, being at his dinner, was busy licking his fingers, sprang to his feet and made a military salute. Having passed through a court and a garden and a series of dismantled rooms I found myself in the Consulate, where I was greeted effusively by Major Phillott, who had no idea I was coming, and who, owing to my being very much sun-tanned, had at first mistaken me for a Persian! He would not hear of my remaining at the Chappar khana, and most kindly sent at once for all my luggage to be brought up to the Consulate. The hospitality of Englishmen in Persia is really unbounded.

H. E. Ala-el-Mulk, Governor of Kerman, called on the Consul that same afternoon, and I was able to present the letter I had brought to him. Having lived long in Europe Ala-el-Mulk is a most fluent French scholar, and, being a man of considerable talent, sense, and honesty he is rather adverse to the empty show and pomp which is ever deemed the necessary accompaniment of high-placed officials in Persia. He can be seen walking through the town with only a servant or two, or riding about inspecting every nook of his city hardly attended at all. This, curiously enough, has not shocked the natives as people feared, but, on the contrary, has inspired them with intense respect for the new Governor, whose tact, gentleness, consideration and justice were fully appreciated by the whole town; so that, after all, it is pleasant to notice that the lower classes of Persia have more common sense and power of differentiation than they have hitherto been credited with.

"When I want anything well done," said the Governor to me, "I do it myself. I want the welfare of my people and am only glad when I can see with my own eyes that they get it. I inspect my soldiers, I see them drilled before me; I go to the bazaar to talk to the people, and any one can come to talk to me. Nobody need be afraid of coming to me; I am ever ready to listen to all."

Although this innovation in the system of impressing the crowds created somewhat of a sensation at first, the Governor soon managed to impress the people with his own personality, and he is now extraordinarily popular among all classes, except the semi-official, who cannot carry on their usual extortions with impunity.

He asked me to go and inspect his troops, whom he had drilled before his own eyes every morning, and undoubtedly, of all the soldiers I had seen in Persia, they were the only ones--barring the Cossack regiments drilled by Russians--that had a real military appearance and were trained according to a method. They were better dressed, better fed, and more disciplined even than the soldiers of Teheran.

The teaching of music to recruits for the band was quite interesting. The musical notes were written on a black-board and the young fellows were made to sing them out in a chorus until they had learnt the whole melody by heart. The boys had most musical voices and quite good musical ears, while their powers of retention of what they were taught were quite extraordinary, when it was considered that these fellows were recruited from the lowest and most ignorant classes.

The garrison of Kerman was armed with Vrandel rifles, an old, discarded European pattern, but quite serviceable. Anyhow, all the men possessed rifles of one and the same pattern, which was an advantage not noticeable in the Teheran troops, for instance. For Persians, they went through their drill in an accurate and business-like manner, mostly to the sound of three drums, and also with a capital band playing European brass instruments.

The Governor took special delight in showing me several tents which he had had specially manufactured for his approaching campaign, in conjunction with British troops from British Beluchistan, against marauding Beluch tribes who had been very troublesome for some time, and who, being so close to the frontier, were able to evade alike Persian, Beluch, and British law, until a joint movement against them was made from west and east. H. E. Ala-el-Mulk told me that he intended to command the expedition himself.

Ala-el-Mulk, a man extraordinarily courteous and simple in manner, was former Persian Ambassador in Constantinople. Through no fault of his own, owing to certain customs prevalent at the Sultan's court, the Shah during his visit to Constantinople was unreasonably displeased, and the Ambassador was recalled. The Governorship of distant Kerman was given him, but a man like Ala-el-Mulk, one of the ablest men in Persia, would be more useful in a higher position nearer the capital, if not in the capital itself. Kerman is a very out-of-the-way place, and of no very great importance just yet, although, if Persia develops as she should, it will not be many years from the present time before Kerman becomes a place of great importance to England.

However, Ala-el-Mulk is, above all, a philosopher, and he certainly makes the best of his opportunities. He has to contend with many difficulties, intrigue, false dealing, and corruption being rampant even among some of the higher officials in the town; but with his sound judgment and patience he certainly manages to keep things going in a most satisfactory manner.

Besides his official business, and with the aid of his nephew, he superintends the manufacture, as we have already seen, of the best, the most characteristically Persian carpets of the finest quality and dyes. There are a great many looms in the buildings adjacent to the Palace and hundreds of hands employed in the Governor's factories. He also possesses a good collection of very ancient carpets, from which the modern ones are copied.

I returned his visit at his Palace, where the Consul and I were received most cordially and had a lengthy and most interesting conversation with his Excellency. Then he showed me all the buildings in the Ark.

Kerman is celebrated for its cloth manufacture and felts. The cloth is of fine worsted, and is generally in pieces six yards long by three quarters of a yard wide. It is much used by the natives, both for hangings and for making clothes for men and women, being very soft and durable. Embroidered turbans and kamarbands are made from these cloths, especially in white cloth, generally of a fine quality. The process of weaving these cloths, called inappropriately "Kerman shawls," is identical with that of the loom described at the village of Bambis in Chapter 36. The material used for the best quality is the selected fine wool, growing next to the skin of goats. These dyed threads are cut into short lengths and woven into the fabric by the supple and agile fingers of the children working, packed tight together, at the looms. Some of the best cloths, not more than ten feet in length, take as long as a month per foot in their manufacture, and they realise very high prices, even as much as nine or ten pounds sterling a yard. The design on the more elaborate ones is, as in the carpets, learnt by heart, the stitches being committed to memory like the words of a poem. This is not, however, the case with the simpler and cheaper ones, which are more carelessly done, a boy reading out the design from a pattern or a book.

The carpet factories of Kerman are very extensive, the process being similar to that already described in a previous chapter.