Bombay the rising Presidency--Probability of its becoming the Seat of
Government--The Anglo-Indian Society of Bombay--Style of Living--The
Gardens inferior to those of Bengal--Interiors of the Houses more
embellished--Absence of Glass-windows an evil--The Bungalows--The
Encamping-ground--Facility and despatch of a change of
residence--Visit to a tent entertainment--Inconveniences attending a
residence in tents--Want of Hotels and Boarding-houses--Deficiency of
public Amusements in Bombay--Lectures and Conversaziones suggested,
as means of bringing the native community into more frequent
intercourse with Europeans--English spoken by the superior classes
of natives--Natives form a very large portion of the wealth and
intelligence of Bombay--Nothing approaching the idea of a City to be
seen--The climate more salubrious than that of Bengal--Wind blows hot
and cold at the same time--Convenience a stranger finds in so many
domestic servants speaking English--Their peculiar mode of speaking
it--Dress of servants--Their wages--The Cooks--Improved by Lord
Clare--Appointments of the tables--The Ramoosee Watchmen--Their
vociferations during the night--Fidelity of the natives--Controversy
concerning their disregard of truth.
Comparisons are so frequently both unfair and invidious, that I had determined, upon my arrival at Bombay, to abstain from making them, and to judge of it according to its own merits, without reference to those of the rival presidency. It was impossible, however, to adhere to this resolution, and being called upon continually to give an opinion concerning its claims to superiority over Calcutta, I was reluctantly compelled to consider it in a less favourable point of view than I should have done had the City of Palaces been left out of the question.
That Bombay is the rising presidency there can be no doubt, and there seems to be every probability of its becoming the seat of the Supreme Government; nothing short of a rail-road between the two presidencies can avert this catastrophe; the number of days which elapse before important news reaching Bombay can be known and acted upon by the authorities of Calcutta rendering the measure almost imperative. Bengal, too proudly triumphing in her greatness, has now to bear the mortifications to which she delighted to subject Bombay, a place contemptuously designated as "a fishing village," while its inhabitants, in consequence of their isolated situation, were called "the Benighted."
Steam-communication brought the news to Bombay of the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne of England, and this event was celebrated at the same time that the Bengallees were toasting the health of William the Fourth at a dinner given in honour of his birth-day. "Who are the Benighted now?" was the universal cry; and the story is told with great glee to all new arrivals.
Concerning the Anglo-Indian society of Bombay, I do not pretend to know any thing, or to give opinions which must necessarily be premature and presumptuous. A round of dinner parties affords little opportunity of making acquaintance; they are much the same everywhere, and when a large company is assembled, their agreeability must entirely depend upon the persons who occupy the neighbouring chairs.
Bombay is accused, with what degree of justice I cannot determine, of being a place much addicted to scandal and gossip. If this charge be well founded, it is one which it must share in common with all limited circles. The love of detraction is unhappily a thoroughly English vice, flourishing under all circumstances, and quite as prevalent, though not, perhaps, equally hurtful, in great cities as in the smallest village. The same people who in London delight in the perusal of newspapers of the most libellous description, and who read with avidity every publication which attacks private character, will, when removed into a congenial sphere, pick their neighbours to pieces; an amusement which cannot be enjoyed in the metropolis, where happily we do not know the names of the parties who occupy the adjoining houses.
We are proud of our virtues, not unjustly giving ourselves credit for many that elevate and refine the human character; but even the most solid and the most dazzling can scarcely compensate for that one universal sin, that want of charity, which leads English people upon all occasions to undervalue and disparage their most intimate acquaintance. How few will scruple to point out to others the follies and foibles of their dearest friends, weaknesses which they have discovered during long and familiar intercourse; and how few will hesitate to impute the very worst motives for actions which may spring from a laudable source, or be merely the result of thoughtlessness! In our most Christian country, the spirit of the Christian religion is still to be sought, and until we see stronger proofs of its influence than can at present be shown throughout the United Kingdom, we must not single out a remote colony as a specimen of the indulgence of a vice common to us all.
The great evil, which Bombay must share with other communities similarly constituted, is the want of family ties, and the consequent loss of all the gentle affections which spring amid a wide domestic circle. Neither the very old nor the very young are to be found in an Indian colony; there are few connecting links to bind the sojourners of a foreign land together; each has a separate interest, and the result is seen in a general want of sympathy; no one seems to enter into the views, feelings, hopes, or objects of another. I employ the word seems, since, as a stranger, I can only give my first impressions upon the subject.
The style of living is more easily described, and its relative advantages determined. The Anglo-Indian residents of Bombay are, for the most part, scattered all over the island, living in very comfortable houses, of no great pretensions to exterior elegance, yet having for the most part an air of home enjoyment, which suggests pleasing ideas. One feature is very striking, the porticoes and verandahs of many being completely covered with luxuriant flowering creepers, which in Bengal are never suffered to be near the house, in consequence of the harbour they are supposed to give to insects and reptiles. The approach to these beautiful screens is, however, frequently through a cabbage-garden, the expedience of planting out the unsightly but useful vegetables destined for the kitchen not having been as yet considered; neither can the gardens at this period of the year, the cold season, compare with those of Bengal, the expense of irrigation preventing the inhabitants from devoting so much time and attention to their improvement, while as yet the natives have not been encouraged to fill the bazaars with European vegetables. Pease are spoken of as not being uncommon, but I have only seen them once, even at the best tables. Neither have cauliflowers, French beans, or asparagus, made their appearance--vegetables common at Christmas all over the Bengal presidency.
The interiors of the houses are, generally speaking, more embellished than those of Calcutta; the greater part have handsome ceilings, and the doorways and windows are decorated with mouldings, and otherwise better finished. The walls also are coloured, and often very tastefully picked out with white or some other harmonizing tint. The reception-rooms, therefore, have not the barn-like air which detracts from the magnitude of those of Bengal, and the furniture, if not always equally splendid, is shown off to greater advantage; but here I should say the superiority ends.
Some of the small bungalows are very neatly fitted up with boarded ceilings, a great improvement upon the cloth which conceals the rafters in those of Bengal; others, however, are canopied with cloth, and some there are which appear more like summer-houses than habitations intended for Europeans throughout the year, being destitute of glass windows, and open to all the winds of heaven.
The frequent changes of the atmosphere which occur in Bombay, and the danger of a touch of the land-wind, render the absence of glass windows a very serious evil; they are, however, unknown in the temporary bungalows erected upon the Esplanade, which seem to be favourite residences of people who could lodge themselves more substantially if they pleased. The barn-like thatched roofs of these dwellings make them rather unsightly objects, though some are redeemed by a thick drapery of creepers; but the interiors of many are of a very pavilion-like description, and the singularity of all renders them interesting to a stranger.
These houses usually consist of two or more principal apartments, united with each other by means of verandahs, and formed chiefly of wooden frame-work panelled with canvas, with here and there a partition of wattle and dab. They have generally large porticoes of trellice-work in front, sufficiently spacious to allow a carriage to drive under them, which is thus screened from the sun; these porticoes being mantled with flowering creepers of many beautiful kinds. A sort of garden is also formed by plants in tubs, and there is sometimes a cultivated oval or circular space, which, in such a climate, a very few weeks will render luxuriant. The fronts of these bungalows face the sea, and have all the benefit of its breezes, while the intervening space between the fort forms the parade-ground of the garrison, and the most esteemed evening drive.
Those who inhabit these bungalows, and who do not rise before the sun, are subjected to all the inconveniences attending upon field practice, the firing of musquetry and the war of cannon close to their ears, and though favourite residences, they seem better suited to persons well accustomed to all the vicissitudes of Anglo-Indian life than to a stranger. For my own part, I confess a prejudice in favour of brick and mortar, glass windows, and chimneys; and though perfectly content, while travelling, to put up with any accommodation that may offer, would never willingly settle down for a season in a mansion of canvas, mat, and bamboo, where the rats have free ingress, and the atmosphere is filled with innumerable winged insects.
Before the general setting-in of the rains, these bungalows, I am informed, assume a very damp and tatterdemalion appearance, and when the skies open their flood-gates, they are obliged to be taken down and warehoused until the following year. Some of these bungalows are private property, others are erected by the natives and let to their tenants at a monthly rent. In some, the sleeping and sitting apartments are under different roofs; all have a considerable piece of ground enclosed round them, the allotments to each party being made by Government, and appertaining to certain appointments in the service.
Beyond these bungalows is the encamping ground, in which certain temporary sojourners in Bombay either pitch or hire a tent or tents, the accommodation differing according to the expense incurred. The superior tents--such, for instance, as that engaged by the late admiral--are spacious and convenient; a handsome suite of apartments, consisting of ante-room, drawing-room, and dining-room, partitioned off by canvas curtains, which could be rolled up at pleasure, were lighted by chandeliers suspended from the cross-poles and girandoles against those that supported the roof; the walls were handsomely lined, the floors covered with thick mats and carpets; nothing being wanted to render this canvas dwelling equal in comfort and elegance to the tents of Bengal, excepting glass doors.
The weather, during the cold season in this part of India, is not nearly so inclement as in Calcutta and the north-western provinces; nevertheless, it is very desirable to shut out the keen and cutting wind, which frequently blows during the night. The people here, however, seem fond of living in tents, and it often happens that gentlemen especially, who have had good houses of their own over their heads, go to very considerable expense for the purpose of enjoying the free air of a camp.
I had an opportunity of seeing the facility and despatch with which such a change of residence is managed in Bombay. Driving one evening round the foot of a conical hill overlooking the sea, we met a party of gentlemen who said that they were looking out for a good place to pitch their tents, and invited us to dine with them on the following evening at seven o'clock. As the hill was in our neighbourhood, we ascertained at eleven o'clock the next morning that there was not a symptom of habitation upon it; however, we were determined to keep our engagement, and accordingly arrived at the appointed hour at the point of the road at which a rude pathway opened.
It was perfectly dark, but we found the place indicated by a cluster of lamps hanging like a bunch of grapes from a tree; a palanquin was also in waiting to carry the ladies up the hill in turn. I preferred walking; and though my shoes and the hem of my gown were covered with prickles and thorns, which interweaved themselves in an extraordinary manner through a satin dress, I enjoyed the walk amazingly. A man with a lanthorn led the way, a precaution always taken in Bombay, on account of the alleged multitude of the snakes, and at every three or four yards' distance, another cluster of lamps suspended from a tree pointed out the way.
In a few minutes we arrived at a platform of table-land on the summit of the hill, prettily sprinkled with palm-trees, and came upon a scene full of life, picture, and movement. The white outline of the smaller tents had a sort of phantom look in the ambiguous light, but the open doors of the principal one showed a strong illumination. A table, which we might have supposed to be raised by the hand of an enchanter, gleaming with silver, cut glass, and wax candles, was absolutely framed in by the darkness around. Two or three horses picketed under the trees with their grooms, cowering over fires made upon the ground, looked very like unearthly chargers, just emerged with their grim attendants from some subterranean kingdom; while the red glare from the cooking tents, and the dusky figures moving about, could scarcely be recognised as belonging to human and every-day life--the whole scene having a supernatural air.
The interior of the tents was extremely picturesque, fitted up with odds and ends of foreign products, and looking very like the temporary haunt of some pirate; tiger skins, rich soft thick rugs of Persian manufacture, interspersed with Indian mats, covered the floors; the tents were lined with flags, favouring the notion that the corsair's bark lay anchored in some creek below; while daggers, and pistols, and weapons of all kinds, helped out a fanciful imagination to a tale of wild adventure. The butler of our host had enacted more wonders than a man; under such circumstances, a repast of fish and curry might have been considered a great achievement, but we had the three regular courses, and those, too, of a most recherche kind, with a dessert to match, all sent up to the point of perfection.
After coffee, I went out to look upon the sea, which lay like a mirror below the perpendicular height on which I stood; and as my eyes became accustomed to the darkness of a moonless night, I saw under new aspects the sombre outlines of those soft hills, whose purple loveliness I had admired so much during the day.
I spent several pleasant evenings in these tents, which were engaged by a young nobleman upon his travels for the purpose of escaping from the annoyances of the Fort, and who, during his short residence under canvas, had the advantage of the companionship of a friend, to whose experienced servants he was indebted for the excellence of the arrangements.
When it is considered that these tents were pitched upon a lonely spot, upwards of four miles from Bombay and from the bazaars, the celerity and success with which every thing was managed will appear quite wonderful. The tents were found to be so cold, that a gentleman who afterwards joined the party slept in his palanquin; they were subsequently removed, and now the palm-tree waves its broad leaves over the lonely hill, and the prowling jackal seeks his meal elsewhere. Tents such as those now described form the rarer and brighter specimens, their usual character being very different.
On the Esplanade we step at once from the ground upon a settrinjee, which bears all the marks of having been well trodden by sandy feet; an opening at the farther extremity shows the sea, glaring on the eye with a hot dazzle; a table, a few chairs, with some books and papers, perhaps, upon the ground, complete the arrangements that are visible; while, if proceeding farther, we find ourselves in a room fitted up as a bed-chamber, nearly as small and inconvenient as the cabin of a ship, with a square aperture in the thin canvas wall for a window.
These tents are dreadfully warm during the day, and exceedingly cold at night; they are, moreover, notwithstanding their proximity to the sea, and the benefit of its breezes, filled with mosquitoes, or sand-flies, which are equally troublesome. Persons who contemplate a long residence in them, keep out of the cold and heat by erecting a chopper, or roof, formed of thatch, over them; but, in my opinion, they are but uncomfortable residences. Many strangers, however, arriving at Bombay, have no alternative, there being no other place where they can find equally good accommodation.
An hotel, it appears, has been established in the Fort, but not of a description to suit private families or ladies; the constant arrival of steamers full of passengers fills the houses of the residents with a succession of guests, who would gladly put up at an hotel or boarding-house, if such could be found, while there are besides many ladies now in Bombay, whose husbands are in the army, living uncomfortably either alone or going about from friend to friend's houses, who would rejoice to be quietly and comfortably established in a respectable boarding-house. Nothing of the kind, however, appears to be at present in contemplation, and Bombay can never, with any degree of justice, presume to call itself England, until it can offer suitable accommodation to the vast numbers of strangers who land upon its shores.
European foreigners, who visit Bombay in a commercial capacity, find it exceedingly triste; independently of private society, there is absolutely no amusement--no play, no concert, no public assembly of any kind; nor would it be advisable to attempt to establish an entertainment of this nature, since there would be no chance of its support. There is a fine building, the Town Hall, well adapted for the purpose, but its most spacious saloon is suffered to remain empty and unfurnished; the expense which must be incurred in the purchase of chandeliers proving sufficient to deter the community from an undertaking which would serve to add gaiety to a sombre scene.
Those who have visited the Town Hall of Calcutta, and who retain a recollection of the brilliance of its re-unions, with all their gay variety of concert, opera, and acted charade, cannot help seeing that Bombay lags very far behind; it is, therefore, unwise to provoke comparisons, and the society here should rather pride itself upon what it will do, than upon what it has done. It is, perhaps, little to be lamented that merely frivolous amusements should be wholly confined to the private circles of social life, but there are others which might be cultivated with infinite advantage to the community at large, and for which the great room at the Town Hall seems to be most admirably adapted.
Whether the native ear is sufficiently refined to relish the superior performances of music, seems doubtful; but when we see so large a portion of the society of Bombay composed of Parsee, Hindu, and Mohamedan gentlemen, we cannot help wishing that some entertainment should be provided for them which would attract and interest, while it expanded the mind. A series of lectures upon popular subjects, illustrated by entertaining experiments, might, I should think, be introduced with good effect. The wonders of the microscope, laid open to the eyes of intelligent persons who perfectly understand and speak English, could scarcely fail to delight and instruct, while the secrets of phantasmagoria, the astonishing effects produced by electricity, the movements of the heavenly bodies exhibited in an orrery, and, indeed, all the arcana of science, agreeably laid open, would furnish inexhaustible funds of amusement, and lead to inquiries of the most useful nature. Lectures, also, upon horticulture, floriculture, &c., might be followed by much practical good; and as there are many scientific men at the presidency who could assist one or more lecturers engaged for the purpose, the expense of such an institution would be materially lessened, while, if it were once established, the probabilities are in favour of its being supported by contributions of the necessary models, implements, &c., from the capitals of Europe.
It is certainly very pleasing to see the numbers of native gentlemen of all religious persuasions, who enter into the private society of Bombay, but I could wish that we should offer them some better entertainment than that of looking on at the eternal quadrille, waltz, or galoppe. They are too much accustomed to our method of amusing ourselves to view it in the light in which it is looked upon in many other parts of India; still, they will never, in all probability, reconcile it to their ideas of propriety, and it is a pity that we do not show ourselves capable of something better. Conversation at these parties is necessarily restricted to a few commonplaces; nothing is gained but the mere interchange of civility, and the native spectators gladly depart, perhaps to recreate themselves with more debasing amusements, without having gained a single new idea.
If meetings once a fortnight, or once a month, could be held at the Town Hall, for the purpose of diffusing useful knowledge in a popular manner, they would not only afford amusement at the time, but subjects also of conversation for the future. Such meetings would give no offence to that part of the community who are averse, upon religious principles, to cards and dancing, or dramatic amusements; and if not rendered too abstruse, and consequently tiresome and incomprehensible to the general auditor, must necessarily become a favourite method of passing time now too frequently lost or mis-spent.
The literary and scientific conversaziones given by Lord Auckland, in Calcutta, afford a precedent for an institution of the kind; the successful features might be copied, and if there should have been any failures, the experience thus gained would prevent similar hazards. There seems to be no good reason why ladies should be excluded, since the more general and extensive a plan of the kind could be made, the greater chance there would be of a beneficial exercise of its influence over society.
There is a very good library attached to the Town Hall, and the germ of a museum, which would furnish materials for much intellectual entertainment; and there can be little doubt that, if the proposition were judiciously made, and properly supported, the wealthy portion of the native community would subscribe very liberally towards an establishment so eminently calculated to interest and amuse the youth of their families. The greater number of the sons of respectable natives are now receiving their education at the Elphinstone College, and these young people would understand and appreciate the advantages of a literary and scientific institution, for the discussion and illustration of subjects intimately connected with the end and aim of their studies. In the course of a few years, or even less, many of these young men would be qualified to take a leading part in the establishment, and perhaps there would be no greater incentive to the continuation of studies now frequently abandoned too early, for the sake of some money-getting pursuit, than the hope that the scientific acquirements attained at college might be turned to useful account.
A small salary would allure many natives, who, in consequence of the necessity which they are under of gaining their own bread, are obliged to engage in some, perhaps not very lucrative, trade, and who, engrossed in the gathering together o petty gains, lose all the advantages they might otherwise have derived from a liberal education. The difficulties which in other parts of our Asiatic territories stand in the way of the participation of natives in the studies and amusements of Anglo-Indian residents, in consequence of the difference of language, are not felt in Bombay.
All the superior classes of natives speak excellent English, the larger portion expressing themselves with great fluency, and even elegance. English is spoken in every shop frequented by Europeans, and there are generally one or two servants in every family who can make themselves understood in it. The natives form, in fact, a very large portion of the wealth and intelligence of Bombay, and become, consequently, an important part of its society. They are the owners of nearly all the best houses in the island, which are not commonly either built or purchased, as in Calcutta, by their European tenants.
Many rich native merchants, who reside usually in the Fort, possess splendid country mansions, to which they retire occasionally, or which are used merely for the purpose of giving parties to their friends. These mansions are to be recognised by the abundance of ornament, by gateways surmounted by nondescript monsters, after the fashion of the lions or bears of carved stone, which are sometimes seen at the entrance of a nobleman's grounds in England. At others, they are gaily painted in a variety of colours, while a profusion of many-coloured lamps, hanging in the verandah and porticoes on the occasion of every fete, shed great brilliance on the evening scene. These residences are scattered all over Bombay, the interiors being all richly furnished, and many fitted up with infinite taste and elegance.
Although, as I have before remarked, these scattered houses impart an air of rural enjoyment to the island, yet their being spread over its whole surface prevents Bombay from appearing to be so important a place as it is in reality. There is nothing approaching to the idea of a city to be seen, nothing solid or substantial to indicate the presence of wealth or of extensive commerce. Calcutta, on the contrary, offers to the stranger's eye an aspect so striking and imposing, brings so strongly to the mind the notion that its merchants are princes, and that it ranks crowned heads amongst its vassals and its tributaries, that we see at once that it must be the seat of a powerful and permanently established government. Nor does it seem possible, even in the event of Bombay taking the ascendance as the capital of British India, that the proud City of Palaces shall upon that account dwindle and sink into decay. Stranger things, and even more melancholy destinies, have befallen the mighty Babylons of the earth; but with all its faults of situation and of climate, I should at least, for one, regret the fate that would render the glories of a city so distinct in its character, and so proudly vying with the capitals of Europe, a tale of the past. A new direction in the course of the Ganges may reduce it to a swamp, and its palaces and pleasant places may be left to desolate creatures, but it will never be rivalled by any modern creation. The days of Anglo-Indian magnificence are gone by, and though we may hope for all that is conveyed by the words comfort and prosperity, splendour will no longer form a feature in the scene.
The climate of Bombay is said to be superior in point of salubrity to that of Bengal; what is termed the cold season, however, can scarcely merit the name, there being nothing like the bracing weather experienced at the same period of the year in the neighbouring presidency. One peculiarity of Bombay consists in the wind blowing hot and cold at the same time, so that persons who are liable to rheumatic pains are obliged to wrap themselves up much more warmly than is agreeable. While enduring a very uncomfortable degree of heat, a puff of wind from the land or the sea will produce a sudden revulsion, and in these alternations the whole day will pass away, while at night they become still more dangerous. It is said that the hot season is not so hot as in Bengal, and the absence of punkahs in the drawing-rooms and bed-chambers favours the statement; but if the atmosphere be much more sultry in the hot season than it is in what is by courtesy called cold, it must be rather difficult to bear.
To a stranger in Bombay, it is a great convenience to find so many persons who speak English, the objection to the engagement of domestic servants who have acquired the language of their Christian masters not existing to the same extent here as in Bengal, where, in most cases, it is a proof of utter worthlessness. Numbers of very respectable servants, who are found in old established families at this presidency, speak English, and the greater portion take a pride in knowing a little of their masters' language. These smatterers are fond of showing off their acquirements upon all occasions, replying in English, as far as they are able, to every question asked in Hindostanee, and delivering their messages in all the words that they can muster. With few exceptions, the pronunciation of the language they have acquired is correct; these exceptions consist in the prefix of e to all words beginning with an s, and the addition of the same letter to every termination to which it can be tacked. Thus they will ask you to take some fowlee-stew; and if you object to any thing, say they will bring you anotheree. Though very respectful when addressing their superiors in their native language, the same degree of propriety is not maintained under the disadvantage of an incompetent acquaintance with English. Instead of the khana tear hi, 'dinner is ready,' they will very unintentionally substitute an abrupt summons. I was much amused one day, when, being rather late at my toilette, a servant made his appearance at the door of my apartment, just as I was quitting it, and said, "You come to dinner." He had been sent to tell me that it was served, and had not the least idea that he had not delivered his message with the greatest propriety.
Though, generally speaking, well-behaved and attentive, the domestics of a Bombay establishment are very inferior in style and appearance to those of Bengal, the admixture of Portuguese and Parsees, with Mohammedans and Hindus, forming a motley crew, for all dress in their national costume, it being impossible to prevail upon people having so many and such different religious prejudices to assume the same livery. The Parsees who engage as domestic servants seldom dress well; the ugly chintz cap will always be a disfigurement, and it is not often redeemed by the ample robe and handsome shawl which distinguish the better classes.
The Mohammedans do not wear the beautifully plaited turbans and well-fitting vests so common in Bengal, while the sailors' jackets and trowsers, almost universally worn by the Portuguese, a few only assuming the swallow-tailed coat, are any thing rather than handsome or becoming. The inferiority of dress exhibited is the more inexcusable, since the wages of servants in Bombay are much higher than those of the same class in Bengal, while the difference in point of number does not make up for the difference in the rate. The youngest table-servant demands twelve rupees a month, no one will engage as a butler under twenty, and the remainder are in proportion. The ayahs' wages are also very high, amounting to from fifteen to twenty rupees a month; they are certainly, however, more efficient than the same class of persons in Bengal, undertaking to wash silk stockings, lace, and fine muslin; they are, generally speaking, well-conducted and respectable. The dirzees or tailors are very inferior to their brethren of Bengal, though paid at a much higher rate, fifteen rupees a month being the common demand. Whenever a Bengal tailor happens to come round, he is eagerly seized upon, the reputation of workmen from the rival presidency being deservedly high. Tailors are indiscriminately Parsees, Mohammedans, or Hindus, the latter-named being the least desirable, as they will neither eat, drink, nor cook in a European manner, and are always eager to get away by half-past four in the afternoon.
The cooks of Bombay are, for the most part, well acquainted with the culinary art, an advantage for which, according to common report, they are indebted to Lord Clare. Upon the arrival of that nobleman at the seat of his government, it is said that he started with horror at the repast which the hospitality of the island had provided for him. At this substantial dinner, the ponderous round jostled the sirloin of beef, saddles and haunches of mutton vis-a-vis'd with each other, while turkey and ham, tongue and fowls, geese and ducks, filled up the interstices.
Lord Clare had either brought a French cook in his train, or sent for one with the least possible delay, and this accomplished person not only reformed the cuisine at Government House, but took pupils, and instructed all who chose to pay for the acquirement in the mysteries of his art. He found his scholars a very teachable race, and it is only now necessary to describe the way in which any particular method should be practised, in order to secure success. They easily comprehend the directions given, and, what is of equal consequence, are not above receiving instructions. Through the exertions of these praiseworthy persons, the tables of Bombay are frequently exceedingly well served, and nobody is actually obliged to dine upon the huge joints which still make their appearance.
Turkey maintains its high position, and is, with its accompaniment of ham, considered indispensable; rounds of boiled salt-beef, plentifully garnished with carrots, are apparently in high esteem, the carrots being an importation from England, coming out hermetically sealed in tin cases. What are considered the dainties of the table consist chiefly of fresh salmon, preserved by the patent process, Highland mutton, partridges stuffed with truffles, &c., these things, in consequence of their rendering the dinner more expensive as well as more recherche, being in great request.
Although the high prices of provisions are adduced as the reason of the high rate of servants' wages, as compared with those of Bengal, this increased expenditure, according to the observations I have been able to make, relates more to the commodities of the native bazaars than those consumed by Europeans. The necessity of bringing in supplies from a distance for the consumption of the island occasions the increase of the price of grain, &c, while probably the demand for beef, mutton, fowls, &c. not being go great as in Calcutta, these articles are sold at a lower rate. Buffalo meat is occasionally eaten by Europeans, a thing unheard of in Bengal; but it is not in any esteem.
The tables in Bombay are handsomely appointed, though not with the same degree of splendour that prevails in Bengal, where the quantity of plate makes so striking a display. The large silver vases, in which butter and milk are enclosed in a vessel filled with saltpetre, which give to the breakfast-tables of Calcutta an air of such princely grandeur, are not in use here.
The servants are summoned by the exclamation of "Boy" instead of the Qui hi? which is so Indian-like in its expression, and has afforded a distinguishing soubriquet to the Bengallees. The word boy is said to be a corruption of bhaee, 'brother,' a common mode of salutation all over the East. As it is now employed, it is often very absurdly answered by a grey-bearded man, who has long lost all title to the appellation.
Notwithstanding the strength and acknowledged efficiency of the Bombay police, it is considered expedient in every house to engage a Ramoosee or watchman, who, while himself a professional thief, is bound in honour to protect his employer from the depredation of his brethren. Though, in virtue of this implied compact, the house ought to be considered sacred, and the Ramoosee entitled to receive his wages for the protection that his name affords, some there are who insist upon the display of their watchfulness in a very unwelcome manner.
Occasionally the Ramoosee, more peaceably inclined, settles himself quietly down to sleep in the verandah, and leaves the family to the enjoyment of repose; but there are others who disdain thus to eat the bread of idleness, and who make it a point to raise an alarm every hour in the night. Personal courage or strength of body is by no means essential in a Ramoosee, all that is required of him being powerful lungs; this qualification he cultivates to the utmost, and any thing more dreadful than the sounds emitted in the dead of the night close to the window nearest the head of my bed I never heard. I have started up in the most horrible state of apprehension, fancying that the world was at an end, while, after calming down all this perturbation, just as I have been going to sleep again, the same fearful shout has brought on new alarm. Vainly have I remonstrated, vainly endeavoured to convince the Ramoosee that his duty to his employers would be better performed by making these shocking outcries at the road-side; he is either inflexibly silent, or waging war against my repose; for I believe that he selects the side of the house devoted to the visit or for the exercise of his extraordinary faculty; I cannot in any other way account for the small disturbance he gives to the rest of the family.
The absolute necessity of paying one of these men, in order to secure the forbearance of his colleagues, is illustrated by an anecdote commonly told. It appears that two friends were living together, one of whom had engaged a Ramoosee, while the other, not imagining it to be incumbent upon him to incur the same expense, neglected this precaution. One night, every thing belonging to this unfortunate chum was stolen. The Ramoosee was summoned, and accused of not having performed his duty. He boldly denied the charge. "All master's property is safe," he said; "when master lose any thing, I will account for it."
The fidelity with which the greater number of natives, however corrupt in other respects, fulfil all their engagements, the few instances in which a pledge once given is forfeited, if taken into grave consideration, would do much towards settling the point at issue between the Bishop of London and Sir Charles Forbes. The word of a native, generally speaking, if solemnly given, is a bond never to be broken, while an oath is certainly not equally binding.
In accusing the natives of a deliberate crime in the commission of perjury, we do not sufficiently reflect upon the difference of the religious principles which actuate Christians, and the heinous nature in their eyes of the sin of calling upon a God of purity to witness their falsehoods. If we could administer an oath to a native, the profanation of which would fill him with equal horror, we should find that he would speak the truth. A case in point occurred lately at Aden. There are a class of Mohammedans who are great knaves, many being addicted to cheating and theft: the evidence of these men cannot be depended upon, since for the value of the most trifling sum they would swear to any thing. Nevertheless, although they do not hesitate to call upon God and the Prophet to witness the most flagrant untruths, they will not support a falsehood if put to a certain test. When required to swear by a favourite wife, they refuse to perjure themselves by a pledge which they esteem sacred, and will either shrink altogether from the ordeal or state the real fact.
The following occurrence is vouched for by an eye-witness: "A Somali had a dispute with a Banian as to the number of komasies he had paid for a certain article, swearing by God and the Prophet that he had paid the price demanded of him for the article in question; but no sooner was he called upon to substantiate his assertions by swearing by his favourite wife, than he threw down the article contended for, and took to his heels with all speed, in order to avoid the much dreaded oath." It will appear, therefore, that there is scarcely any class of persons in India so utterly destitute of principle, as to be incapable of understanding the obligation of an oath, or the necessity of speaking truth when solemnly pledged to do so, the difficulty being to discover the asseveration which they consider binding.
In nearly every transaction with servants in India we find them most unscrupulous respecting the truth of any account which they give, and yet at the same time they will fulfil every engagement they enter into with a conscientiousness almost unknown in Christian countries. The lowest servant of the establishment may be trusted with money, which will be faithfully appropriated to the purpose for which it was intended, but certainly they entertain little or no respect for abstract truth.
The controversy at home concerning the general disregard to accuracy manifested by the natives of India has caused much consternation here, and will, I trust, be productive of good. It will show at least to the large portion of the native community, who can understand and appreciate the value of the good opinion of the country of which they are fellow-subjects, the necessity of a strict adherence to veracity, in order to maintain their pretensions to morality, and it will evince the superiority of that religion which, as one of its precepts, teaches a regard for truth.
Willing as I feel to bear testimony to many excellent points in the native character, I regret to say, that, although they do not deserve the sweeping accusations brought against them, the standard by which they are guided is very low. At the same time it must be said, that the good faith which they observe, upon occasions in which persons guided by superior lights would be less scrupulous, shows that they only require a purer religious system to regard truth as we have been taught to regard it.