Contrast between landing at Bombay and at Calcutta--First feelings
those of disappointment--Aspect of the place improves--Scenery of the
Island magnificent, abounding with fine Landscapes--Luxuriance and
elegance of the Palms--Profusion and contrast of the Trees--Multitude
of large Houses in Gardens--Squalid, dirty appearance of the
Native Crowd--Costume of the Natives--Inferior to the Costume of
Bengal--Countenances not so handsome--The Drive to the Fort--The
Burrah Bazaar--Parsee Houses--"God-shops" of the Jains--General use
of Chairs amongst the Natives--Interior of the Native Houses--The
Sailors' Home--The Native Town--Improvements--The Streets animated
and picturesque--Number of Vehicles--The Native Females--The Parsee
Women--The Esplanade--Tents and Bungalows--The Fort--The China
Bazaar--A Native School--Visit to a Parsee Warehouse--Seal ornamental
China-ware--Apprehension of Fire in the Fort--Houses fired by
Rats--Illumination of Native Houses--Discordant noise of Native
Magic--The great variety of Religions in Bombay productive of
lamp-lighting and drumming.
The bunder, or pier, where passengers disembark upon their arrival in Bombay, though well-built and convenient, offers a strong contrast to the splendours of Chandpaul Ghaut in Calcutta; neither are the bunder-boats at all equal in elegance to the budgerows, bohlias, and other small craft, which we find upon the Hooghley. There is nothing to indicate the wealth or the importance of the presidency to be seen at a glance; the Scottish church, a white-washed building of no pretensions, being the most striking object from the sea. Landward, a range of handsome houses flank so dense a mass of buildings, occupying the interior of the Fort, as to make the whole appear more like a fortified town than a place of arms, as the name would denote. The tower of the cathedral, rising in the centre, is the only feature in the scene which boasts any architectural charm; and the Esplanade, a wide plain, stretching from the ramparts to the sea, is totally destitute of picturesque beauty.
The first feelings, therefore, are those of disappointment, and it is not until the eye has been accustomed to the view, that it becomes pleased with many of the details; the interest increasing with the development of other and more agreeable features, either not seen at all, or seen through an unfavourable medium. The aspect of the place improved, as, after crossing the Esplanade or plain, the carriage drove along roads cut through palm-tree woods, and at length, when I reached my place of destination, I thought that I had never seen any thing half so beautiful.
The apartments which, through the kindness of hospitable friends, I called my own, commanded an infinite variety of the most magnificent scenery imaginable. To the left, through a wide vista between two hills, which seemed cleft for the purpose of admitting the view, lay the placid waters of the ocean, land-locked, as it were, by the bold bluff of distant islands, and dotted by a fairy fleet of fishing-boats, with their white sails glittering in the sun. In front, over a beautifully-planted fore-ground, I looked down upon a perfect sea of palms, the taller palmyras lifting their proud heads above the rest, and all so intermingled with other foliage, as to produce the richest variety of hues. This fine wood, a spur of what may be termed a forest further to the right, skirted a broad plain which stretched out to the beach, the bright waters beyond expanding and melting into the horizon, while to the right it was bounded by a hilly ridge feathered with palm-trees, the whole bathed in sunshine, and forming altogether a perfect Paradise.
Every period of the day, and every variation in the state of the atmosphere, serve to bring out new beauties in this enchanting scene; and the freshness and delicious balm of the morning, the gorgeous splendour of mid-day, the crimson and amber pomps of evening, and the pale moonlight, tipping every palm-tree top with silver, produce an endless succession of magical effects. In walking about the garden and grounds of this delightful residence, we are continually finding some new point from which the view appears to be more beautiful than before. Upon arriving at the verge of the cleft between the two hills, we look down from a considerable elevation over rocky precipitous ground, with a village (Mazagong) skirting the beach, while the prospect, widening, shows the whole of the harbour, with the high ghauts forming the back-ground.
Turning to the other side, behind the hill which shuts out the sea, the landscape is of the richest description--roads winding through thick plantations, houses peeping from embowering trees, and an umbrageous forest beyond. The whole of Bombay abounds with landscapes which, if not equal to that from Chintapooglee Hill, which I have, vainly I fear, attempted to describe, boast beauties peculiarly their own, the distinguishing feature being the palm-tree. It is impossible to imagine the luxuriance and elegance of this truly regal family as it grows in Bombay, each separate stage, from the first appearance of the different species, tufting the earth with those stately crowns which afterwards shoot up so grandly, being marked with beauty. The variety of the foliage of the coco-nut, the brab, and others, the manner of their growth, differing according to the different directions taken, and the exquisite grouping which continually occurs, prevent the monotony which their profusion might otherwise create, the general effect being, under all circumstances, absolutely perfect. Though the principal, the palm is far from being the only tree, and while frequently forming whole groves, it is as frequently blended with two species of cypress, the peepul, mango, banian, wild cinnamon, and several others.
In addition to the splendour of its wood and water, Bombay is embellished by fragments of dark rock, which force themselves through the soil, roughening the sides of the hills, and giving beauty to the precipitous heights and shelving beach. Though the island is comparatively small, extensively cultivated and thickly inhabited, it possesses its wild and solitary places, its rains deeply seated in thick forests, and its lonely hills covered with rock, and thinly wooded by the eternal palm-tree; hills which, in consequence of the broken nature of the ground, and their cavernous recesses, are difficult of access. It is in these fastnesses that the hyenas find secure retreats, and the Parsees construct their "towers of silence."
There is little, or indeed nothing, in the scenery that comes under the denomination of jungle, the island being intersected in every part with excellent roads, macadamized with the stone that abounds so conveniently for the purpose. These roads are sometimes skirted by walls of dark stone, which harmonize well with the trees that never fail to spread their shade above; at others, with beautiful hedge-rows, while across the flats and along the Esplanade, a water-course or a paling forms the enclosures.
The multitude of large houses, each situated in the midst of gardens or ornamented grounds, gives a very cheerful appearance to the roads of Bombay; but what the stranger on his first arrival in India is said to be most struck with is, the number and beauty of the native population. Probably, had I never seen Bengal, I might have experienced similar delight and astonishment; but with the recollections of Calcutta fresh in my mind, I felt disappointed.
Accustomed to multitudes of fine-looking well-dressed people, with their ample and elegant drapery of spotless white muslin, I could not help contrasting them with the squalid, dirty appearance of the native crowd of Bombay. Nor is it so easy at first to distinguish the varieties of the costume through the one grand characteristic of dirt; nor, with the exception of the peculiar Parsee turban, which is very ugly, the Persian cap, and the wild garb of the Arab, do they differ so widely as I expected. For instance; the Hindus and Mohamedans are not so easily recognized as in Bengal. The vest in ordinary wear, instead of being fitted tightly to the figure, and having that peculiarly elegant cut which renders it so graceful, seems nothing more than a loose bed-gown, coarse in materials and tasteless in shape: this forms the most common costume. The higher classes of Parsees wear an ample and not unbecoming dress; the upper garment of white cambric muslin fits tightly to the waist, where it is bound round with a sash or cummurbund of white muslin; it then descends in an exceedingly full skirt to the feet, covering a pair of handsome silk trowsers. A Parsee group, thus attired, in despite of their mean and unbecoming head-dress, make a good appearance.
The Arabs wear handkerchiefs or shawls, striped with red, yellow, and blue, bound round their heads, or hanging in a fanciful manner over their turbans. The Persian dress is grave and handsome, and there are, besides, Nubians, Chinese, and many others; but the well-dressed people must be looked for in the carriages, few of the same description are to be seen on foot, which gives to a crowd in Bengal so striking an appearance. In fact, a Bengallee may be recognized at a glance by his superior costume, and in no place is the contrast more remarkable than in the halls and entrances of Anglo-Indian houses. The servants, if not in livery--and it is difficult to get them to wear one, the dignity of caste interfering--are almost invariably ill-dressed and slovenly in their appearance. We see none of the beautifully plaited and unsullied white turbans; none of the fine muslin dresses and well-folded cummurbunds; the garments being coarse, dirty, scanty, and not put on to advantage. Neither are the countenances so handsome or the forms so fine; for though a very considerable degree of beauty is to be found of person and feature amid many classes of Parsees, Jews, Hindus, and Mohamedans, it is not so general as in Bengal, where the features are usually so finely cut, and the eyes so splendid.
Nevertheless, although my admiration has never been so strongly excited, and I was in the first instance greatly disappointed, every time I go abroad I become more reconciled to this change, and more gratified by the various objects which attract my attention; and there are few things that please me more than a drive to the Fort.
It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to convey any idea of the lively scene which is presented in this excursion, or the great variety of features which it embraces. Enclosures sprinkled over with palm-trees, and filled with a herd of buffaloes, occur close to a farm-house, which looks absolutely English; then we come to a cluster of huts of the most miserable description, occupying some low situation, placed absolutely on the ground, and scantily thatched with palm branches; stately mansions now arise to view, and then there is a row of small but apparently comfortable dwellings, habitations being thickly scattered over fields and gardens, until we reach what has been denominated the Black Town, but which is now generally known as the Burrah Bazaar. This is now a broad street, and, without exception, one of the most curious places I have ever beheld. It is said to have been much improved during late administrations, and, forming the high road to the Fort, is the avenue most frequented in the native town by Europeans. The buildings on either side are very irregular, and of various descriptions; some consist of ranges of small shops, with a story above in a very dilapidated and tumble-down condition. Then comes a row of large mansions of three floors, which look very much like the toy baby-houses constructed for children in England, the windows being so close together, and the interiors so public; others intervene, larger, more solid, and irregular, but exceedingly picturesque.
Most of the better kind of houses are ascended by a flight of steps, which leads to a sort of verandah, formed by the floor above projecting over it, and being supported by wooden pillars or other frame-work in front. In the Parsee houses of this kind, there is usually a niche in this lower portion for a lamp, which is kept always burning. In some places, the houses are enclosed in courtyards, and at others a range of dwellings, not very unlike the alms-houses in England, are divided from the road by a low wall, placed a few yards in the front, and entered at either end by gateways. These houses have a very comfortable appearance, and the shading of a few palm-trees completes a rather pretty picture. There are two mosques, one on either side of this street, which are handsomely constructed, and would be great embellishments to the scene, were they not so painfully whiter-washed.
A peculiar class of Hindus, the Jains, have also what have not been inappropriately termed "god-shops," for they certainly have not the slightest appearance of temples. These pagodas, if they may be so styled, are nothing more than large houses, of three floors, with balconies running in front, the heavy wooden frame-work that supports them being painted a dark dingy red, and the walk adorned with representations of deities, executed in a variety of colours, and of the most nondescript character. The interiors appear to be decorated in the same manner, as they are seen through the open windows and by the light of many lamps suspended from the ceilings. The ringing of bells, and the full attendance of priests and worshippers of an evening, show the purpose to which these houses are dedicated, and superstition is here exhibited in its most revolting aspect, for there is no illusion to cheat the fancy--no beautiful sequestered pagoda, with its shadowing trees and flower-strewed courts, to excite poetical ideas--all being coarse, vulgar, and contemptible.
Great numbers of artizans are to be seen at work in their respective shops in this bazaar, copper-smiths particularly, who seem an industrious race, toiling by lamp-light long after the day has completely closed. There are also caravanserais and cafes, where the country and religion of the owner may be known by the guests congregated about his gate. Groups of Persians are seen seated on the outside smoking; the beautiful cats, which they have brought down for sale, sporting at their feet. A few yards farther on, the Arab horse-dealers, in front of their stables, are equally conspicuous, and it is easy to perceive, by the eager glances with which some of these men survey the English carriages bearing fair freights of ladies along, that they have never visited an European settlement before.
My former visit to India enabling me to observe the differences between two of our presidencies, I was particularly struck, on my arrival at Bombay, with the general use of chairs among the natives; none but the very meanest description of houses seem to be entirely destitute of an article of furniture scarcely known in the native habitations of Bengal; and these seats seem to be preferred to the more primitive method of squatting on the ground, which still prevails, the number of chairs in each mansion being rather circumscribed, excepting in the best houses, where they abound. Sofas and divans, though seen, are not so common as in Egypt, and perhaps the divan, properly speaking, is not very usual.
The cheapness of oil, and in all probability the example shown by the Parsees, render lamps very abundant. The common kind of hall-lamp of England, of different sizes and different colours, is the prevailing article; these are supplied with a tumbler half-filled with water, having a layer of oil upon the top, and two cotton-wicks. As I lose no opportunity whatever of looking into the interiors of the native houses, I have been often surprised to see one of these lamps suspended in a very mean apartment of a cottage, boasting few other articles of furniture, which, nevertheless, in consequence of its cleanliness, and the excellence of the light afforded, possessed an air of comfort. In fact, many of the houses, whose exteriors are anything but promising, are very well fitted up in the inside; many of the apartments are panelled with wood, handsomely carved, and have ceilings and floors of the same, either painted of a dark colour, or highly polished. In the evening, the windows being all open, and the lamps lighted, a foil view may be obtained of these apartments.
Many of the houses appear to be kept entirely for show, since in all my peregrinations I have never seen any human being in the upper chambers, although illuminated every night. In others, there can be no doubt concerning the fact of their having inhabitants, since the owners do not scruple to go to bed with the windows open and the lamps burning, not disturbed in their repose by the certainty of being seen by every passer-by, or by the noise and bustle of the street.
The bazaar ends at the commencement of the Esplanade, in a large building, wooden-fronted, of a circular form, and not unhandsome, which is decorated with a flag upon the roof, and is called "The Sailors' Home." Its verandahs and open windows often display our jovial tars enjoying themselves in an asylum which, though evil has been spoken against it, is said to be well-conducted, and to prevent a very thoughtless class of persons from falling into worse hands.
The native town extends considerably on either side of the principal avenue, one road leading through the coco-nut gardens, presenting a great variety of very interesting features; that to the left is more densely crowded, there being a large and well-frequented cloth bazaar, besides a vast number of shops and native houses, apparently of considerable importance. Here the indications shown of wealth and industry are exceedingly gratifying to an eye delighting in the sight of a happy and flourishing population. There are considerable spaces of ground between these leading thoroughfares, which, by occasional peeps down intersecting lanes, seem to be covered with a huddled confusion of buildings, and, until the improvements which have recently taken place, the whole of the town seems to have been nearly in the same state.
The processes of widening, draining, pulling down, and rebuilding, appear to have been carried on very extensively; and though much, perhaps, remains to be done in the back settlements, where buffaloes may be seen wading through the stagnant pools, the eye is seldom offended, or the other senses disagreeably assailed, in passing through this populous district. The season is, however, so favourable, the heat being tempered by cool airs, which render the sunshine endurable, that Bombay, under its present aspect, may be very different from the Bombay of the rains or of the very hot weather. The continual palm-trees, which, shooting up in all directions, add grace and beauty to every scene, must form terrible receptacles for malaria; the fog and mist are said to cling to their branches and hang round them like a cloud, when dispersed by sun or wind elsewhere; the very idea suggesting fever and ague.
Though, as I have before remarked, the contrast between the muslined millions of Bengal and the less tastefully clad populace of Bombay is unfavourable, still the crowds that fill the streets here are animated and picturesque. There is a great display of the liveliest colours, the turbans being frequently of the brightest of yellows, crimsons, or greens.
The number of vehicles employed is quite extraordinary, those of the merely respectable classes being chiefly bullock-carts; these are of various descriptions, the greater number being of an oblong square, and furnished with seats across (after the fashion of our taxed carts), in which twelve persons, including women and children, are frequently accommodated. It is most amusing to see the quantity of heads squeezed close together in a vehicle of this kind, and the various contrivances resorted to in order to accommodate a more than sufficient number of personages in other conveyances, not so well calculated to hold them. Four in a buggy is a common complement, and six or nine persons will cram themselves into so small a space, that you wonder how the vehicle can possibly contain the bodies of all the heads seen looking out of it. The carts are chiefly open, but there are a few covered rhuts, the conveyances probably of rich Hindu or Mohamedan ladies, who do not content themselves, like the Parsees, with merely covering their heads with the veil.
Young Parsee women of the better class are frequently to be seen in carriages with their male relations, nor do they object to appear publicly in the streets following wedding processions. They are the only well-dressed or nice-looking women who drive or walk about the streets or roads. The lower classes of females in Bombay are the most unprepossessing people I ever saw. In Bengal, the saree, though rather too scanty, is a graceful costume, and at a little distance appears to be a modest covering. Here it is worn very differently, and without the slightest attempt at delicacy or grace, the drapery being in itself insufficient, and rendered more offensive by the method of its arrangement.
The Parsee women are, generally speaking, of fair complexions, with small features, and a very sweet expression of countenance; many of them are exceedingly pretty, and they all dress gracefully and becomingly. Very respectable females of this class are to be seen walking about, showing by their conduct that propriety of behaviour does not consist in seclusion, or the concealment of the face.
There is an innate delicacy and refinement about Parsee women which commands respect, and their value is known and acknowledged by their male relatives, who treat them with a degree of deference and consideration which is highly creditable to both parties. Though the men are found in service in every European family, they do not allow their wives and daughters to become domestics to foreigners, and they are only permitted to become servants to their own people. The higher classes of natives have adopted European equipages, and are the owners of the handsomest carriages and horses in Bombay. Chariots, barouches, britschkas, and buggies, appear in great numbers, filled with Mohamedan, Hindu, or Parsee gentlemen. The less fashionable use the palanquin carriage, common in Bengal, but which at this place is called a shigram; these are often crammed full of servants and children.
Upon emerging from the bazaar, we enter upon the wide plain called the Esplanade. To the left, across an extensive parade-ground, appears the Fort, which is seen to the best advantage from this point; the walls are low, and afford an ample view of a range of three-storied houses, having verandahs all the way up, called Rampart Row, and from which one or two very splendid mansions stand out conspicuously. To the right, there is a whole encampment of tents, these canvas dwellings being the sole refuge for the destitute. They may be hired in any number and of every degree of elegance, none, however, quite reaching to the refinements of Bengal, or being supplied with glass doors and windows. Beyond the tents, and quite close to the beach, is the space allotted for the temporary bungalows erected during the cold season--singular places, which will be more fully described under the head of Anglo-Indian residences. In front, and close to the warf or bunder, are immense irregular piles of cotton in bales, which at a distance appear like fortifications, and upon a nearer approach assume somewhat of a picturesque air.
The Fort is surrounded on the land-side with a moat, and is entered through some very shabby gateways. The interior of this extensive work presents a busy, bustling scene; its numerous houses being arranged with some degree of regularity in streets and open places. Those who content themselves, however, with driving through the European portion, will have very little idea of the true character of the place. Rampart Row--the avenues leading into a large open space, in which stand the cathedral, the town-hall, the mint, a cavalry barrack, &c.--and the immediate environs, are composed of lofty, well-constructed houses, some standing a little apart in courtyards, and others with a narrow platform in front, ascended by steps, and roofed by the story above. This, as I have previously stated, is the general method of building in Bombay. These streets have somewhat of an European, though not an English, air, but are for the most part tenanted by natives, who may be seen at the windows of every floor, and who apparently are better lodged, at least according to our idea, than the same class in Calcutta. In this part of the Fort there are several shops, or rather warehouses, for the sale of European goods--dingy places, having a melancholy assortment of faded articles in dim glass cases, freshness and variety in the merchandize depending upon shipping arrivals.
Earthenware, glass, and cutlery, are abundant; but, altogether, there is nothing at present to compare with the first-rate establishments of Calcutta--such as Tulloh's, for instance--the whole style being dirty and slovenly. A very civil native, named Muncherjee, who calls himself a milliner, has, I am informed, very frequently well-chosen investments to dispose of, but upon my visits I have seen nothing wearable in the shape of bonnets and caps. An English milliner resides in his neighbourhood, who possesses both skill and taste, and makes up her silks and gauzes after the best French models; but necessarily, perhaps, the purchases made at her rooms are rather expensive.
There is quite enough of bustle and animation in this quarter of the Fort to engage the attention, but it seems silent and deserted when compared with the crowd of the more exclusively native portions. Here the streets literally swarm with life--men, women, children, and bullocks, filling them almost to suffocation. Ranges of open shops appear on each side, raised a foot or two from the ground, the occupant being seated upon a ledge in front, in the midst of his wares. Here, too, immense quantities of English glass and crockery-ware are exhibited, which may be purchased at a much cheaper rate than in shops styled, par distinction, European.
One or two opportunities offering for a visit to what is called the China Bazaar, I gladly availed myself of them, and was much amused, as the carriage made its slow way through the multitudes that thronged the streets, to observe the employments of the people, buying, selling, manufacturing their goods, or, for want of something else to do, dragging little children in carts, which, by some contrivance, ran back across the floor of the narrow apartment, and were then impelled forward again by means of a string. This I found to be a favourite occupation, and I never in any place saw more fondness manifested towards children by their parents than in Bombay, or a greater desire to associate them in all their amusements. At length, the carriage stopped at a gateway, and upon alighting, I found myself in the midst of a crowd of little children--an infant school, in fact, composed indiscriminately of boys and girls. They were, generally speaking, very pretty, and all well-dressed, many being adorned with very handsome jewels.
The pedagogue--a Parsee, and rather a young man--with the barbarity common to his class, was in the act of inflicting corporal punishment upon a poor little creature, whom he beat upon the feet (ornamented, by the way, with rich anclets) with a rod of split bamboo. I commanded him to forbear, but speaking half in English and half in Hindustanee, made myself better understood by look and gesture than by words. The unhappy infant seemed to know that I interfered in its behalf, for it gazed upon me with a piteous but grateful expression; it could not have been more than three years old, and was really very pretty and interesting in its tears. It was evidently the child of wealthy parents, being dressed in a silk shirt embroidered and trimmed with silver, a cap of the same upon its head, and numerous jewels besides. The whole of the Lilliputian assembly uttered their lesson as I passed, all raising their voices at the same time, and rendering it, I imagine, rather difficult to determine whether each pupil repeated his or her part correctly.
I would fain have lingered for a few minutes, but my attendants officiously showing the way, I walked across a paved yard and up two flights of steps to the shop of which I came in search, which was kept by a good-looking Parsee. The trade of this person was designated as that of a bottlee wallah, which being literally rendered means 'bottle-fellow,' but, according to a more free translation, a dealer in glass, lamps, candlesticks, preserved meats in tin-cases, &c. &c. I found a vast stock of the articles most in request in Indian housekeeping, such as wall-shades, and all descriptions of earthen and hard-ware, all of which he sold at very moderate prices, but having executed the part of my commission which related to candlesticks, I was unable to find the more recherche articles of which I came in quest.
I had been told that a great variety of ornamental china, the real product of the Celestial Empire, was to be seen in the native shops in Bombay. Though showy in appearance, this sort of china is of little value, except to mark how much the manufacture has degenerated since Europeans have learned to make their own teacups. I wished to obtain a few specimens, but could not succeed. My friend, the bottlee wallah, though very civil, could not afford me the information I required, nor have I yet been able to obtain it. I have seen some handsome jars, plates such as are used in England for the deposit of visitors' cards,
&c., which were purchased for a few annas, and have been told that I might procure any quantity I pleased, but the where is still a mystery.
All the information obtainable in Bombay must be fished out in an extraordinary manner, both natives and Europeans seeming to make it a rule never to commit themselves by a direct reply to any question; in every single instance, up to the present time, I have always, upon making an inquiry, been referred to somebody else. Neither do I find the same zeal manifested in the servants, which amounts to officiousness on the other side of India. I have sent them to purchase the china, but can get nothing but rubbish, knowing all the while that there are plenty of a better description to be had.
Upon my return, the bottlee wallah accompanied me to the carriage in waiting, and as I paused to notice some of the children in the school, introduced me to a group of his own sons and daughters, well decked out in jewels, and otherwise richly dressed. The instruction given at these schools I understood to be merely oral, the repetition of a few verses, intended rather to pass away the time and keep the children out of mischief, than as a foundation of more useful studies. I hope that the system will be improved, for the pupils seemed to be extremely intelligent, and capable of better things.
Returning home, I passed several shops, in which the artizans of a very beautiful manufacture, peculiar to Bombay, were at work. Desks, dressing-cases, work-boxes, card-cases, ink-stands, and a variety of other ornamental fancy articles, are made of sandal-wood, covered and inlaid with ivory, ebony, and a material resembling silver. They copy the best patterns, and produce exceedingly elegant appendages for the drawing or dressing-room tables. A desk, handsomely fitted up and lined with velvet, is sold for seven or eight pounds; large ink-stands and blotting books for twenty rupees, and card-cases for six or eight.
It is impossible, while perambulating the Fort of Bombay, to avoid a feeling of apprehension concerning a catastrophe, which sooner or later seems certain to happen, and which nothing short of a miracle appears to prevent from taking place every night; I mean the destruction of the whole by fire. All the houses are constructed of the most combustible materials, and the greater number belonging to the native quarter are thatched. Though contrary to law, many of the warehouses contain gunpowder, while the immense quantity of oil and spirits stored up in them would render a conflagration, once commenced, most fearful. Few or no precautions seem to be taken by the natives against fire. There are lights burning in every room of every house, fires are continually made outside, whence a single spark might set the whole in flames; and added to these dangers, are the prejudices of the great number of the inhabitants, whose religious feelings would prevent them from making the slightest endeavour to stay the progress of the element which they worship. Nor would the destruction of property be the sole danger. It is terrible to think of the fearful risk of life in a place in which escape would be so difficult. The gates of the Fort are few in number, and of narrow dimensions; a new one is now constructing, probably with some view to an emergence of the kind. The natives, upon the occasion of its proposal, evinced their readiness to assist in the execution of a plan so advantageous to the place of their abode, and immediately advanced half the sum which this necessary improvement would cost--namely, thirty thousand rupees--which were subscribed and paid into the treasury in the course of a week.
In 1803 or 1804, a very destructive conflagration actually took place in the Fort of Bombay, and upon that occasion, in order to save the castle, which did then, and does now, contain an immense quantity of gunpowder, the authorities were obliged to bring out cannon to batter down the surrounding houses, for the purpose of arresting the progress of the flames. When the place was rebuilt, many salutary regulations were made to prevent the recurrence of so great a calamity, and could all the plans of Government have been accomplished, the danger which now threatens Bombay would have been very considerably lessened; but it was found impossible to carry out all the objects contemplated, in consequence of the great value of the property which they would affect.
The land within the walls of the Fort has become in a great measure private property, and the convenience of its contiguity to the harbour is so great, and the natives entertain so strong an idea of security in a residence in a fortified place, however disqualified to resist a hostile force, that nothing would prevail upon them to relinquish their houses. The higher classes are well aware of the hazards they incur, but, like the dwellers in the neighbourhood of a volcano, are unwilling to quit a place endeared to them by long residence, though they know not the hour in which they may be buried beneath its smoking ruins. There are only a few Europeans who continue to inhabit the Fort, but it must contain a very considerable portion of the property of those merchants who have their offices and warehouses within its walls. The British authorities have taken all the precautions in their power, the fire-engines have been placed in a state of greater efficiency than heretofore, while, should an extensive fire take place, everything that European strength and skill could accomplish would be attempted.
Amongst the various accidents to which houses in Bombay are subjected, the one to be most apprehended, that of fire, is often brought about by rats. They will carry off a lighted candle at every convenient opportunity, setting fire to dwellings by this means. They have been also known to upset tumblers containing oil, which is thus spread abroad and likely to be ignited by the falling wick. It is, perhaps, impossible totally to exterminate this race of vermin, which in the Fort set cats completely at defiance, but something might be done to keep the population down. I have been told that there are places in the more crowded portion rendered perfectly impassable at night in consequence of the effluvia arising from the immense quantities of musk rats, which, together with the common sort, and bandicoots of an incredible size, abound, the narrow close lanes being apparently built for the purpose of affording accommodation to vermin of every description. Nevertheless, some of the native houses of the Fort would form very agreeable residences to persons accustomed to the utmost refinement. Being exceedingly lofty, the upper apartments have the advantage of every breeze that blows, while the views both of sea and land are splendid.
The immense size of these houses, and the elegance of their decorations, evince the spirit and wealth of their owners; they become absolutely beacons at night, in consequence of the frequency and the extent of their illuminations. Numerous are the occasions, either of holidays or other rejoicings, in which the natives of Bombay light up their houses; rows of lamps hung along the wide fronts of the verandahs, upon every floor, produce a good effect, which is often heightened by the flood of light poured out of apartments decorated with chandeliers and lamps of every description.
In passing through the bazaar at night, every third or fourth house is lit up upon some festive occasion; one favourite and very pretty method consists of a number of small lamps, arranged to resemble bunches of grapes, and hung up in the trees of a court-yard. Sometimes in the evening, a sort of market is held in the native town beyond the Esplanade, and every stall is profusely lighted; the hawkers, who carry about their goods in a more humble way upon their heads in baskets, have them stuck with candles, and the wild shadowy effects produced, amid the quaint buildings thus partially lighted, afford a continual phantasmagoria.
They must be destitute of imagination, indeed, who cannot find pleasure in the contemplation of the night-scenes of Bombay, either from its native crowds, or the delicious solitudes of its sylvan shades. The ear is the only organ absolutely unblest in this sunny island, the noises being incessant, and most discordant; the shrieking of jackals by night is music compared to that from native instruments, which, in the most remote places, are continually striking up: the drums, trumpets, bells, and squeaking pipes, of a neighbouring village, are now inflicting their torments upon my distracted brain in the most barbarous manner possible. The exertions of the performers never appear to relax, and by night or day, it is all the same; they make themselves heard at any distance, parading along the roads for the sole purpose, it should seem, of annoying the more peaceable inhabitants. Certainly, the sister arts of music and painting have yet to make their way in India, the taste for both being at present perfectly barbarous.
The European bands, when playing on the Esplanade, attract a very considerable number of natives; but whether congregated for the purpose of listening to the music, or merely for the sake of passing the time, seems very doubtful. A few, certainly, manifest a predilection for "concord of sweet sounds," and no difficulty is experienced by band-masters in recruiting their forces from natives, the boys learning readily, and acquitting themselves very well upon instruments foreign to the country. There is, however, no manifestation at present of the spread of a refined taste, and many years will probably elapse before any thing like good music will be common in this part of Asia.
The great variety of religions extant in Bombay, each being distinguished by numerous festivals, all celebrated in the same manner--that is, by noise and illuminations--sufficiently accounts for the perpetual recurrence of lamp-lighting and drumming in all directions. Every week brings round the anniversary of some day of rejoicing of the Mohamedans, Hindus, Parsees, Jews, Roman Catholics, or Armenians, and Bombay may therefore be said to present one universal holiday. Passing the other evening one of the handsomest pagodas in the island, an oblong square building of yellow stone, with a mitre-shaped tower at one end, I was surprised by the number of European carriages in waiting. The exterior had all the air of a Christian church, the situation beautiful, a platform of rock overlooking the sea; and I could not help indulging the hope, that the substitution of chariots and buggies for palanquins and rhuts would lead to the introduction of a purer and better creed.