The Climate of Bombay treacherous in the cold season--The land-wind
injurious to health--The Air freely admitted into Rooms--The
Climate of the Red Sea not injurious to Silk dresses--Advice to
lady-passengers on the subject of dress--The Shops of Bombay badly
provided--Speculations on the site of the City, should the seat of
Government be removed hither--The Esplanade--Exercise of Sailors
on Shore and on Ship-board--Mock-fight--Departure of Sir Henry
Fane--Visit to a fair in Mahim Wood--Prophecy--Shrine of Mugdooree
Sahib--Description of the Fair--Visit to the mansion of a
Moonshee--His Family--Crowds of Vehicles returning from the
Fair--Tanks--Festival of the Duwallee--Visit to a Parsee--Singular
ceremony--The Women of India impede the advance of improvement--They
oppose every departure from established rules--Effect of Education in
Bombay yet superficial--Cause of the backwardness of Native Education.
Every day's experience of the climate of Bombay assures me that, in what is called the cold season, at least, it is the most treacherous in the world; and that, moreover, its dangers are not sufficiently guarded against by the inhabitants. Cold weather, such as takes place during the period from November to March, in all parts of Bengal, is not felt here, the days being more or less sultry, and tempered only by cold, piercing winds.
The land-wind, which blows alternately with the sea-breezes, comes fraught with all the influences most baneful to health; cramps, rheumatic pains, even head-aches and indigestion, brought on by cold, are the consequences to susceptible persons of exposure to this wind, either during the day or the night: so severe and so manifold are the pains and aches which attend it, that I feel strongly inclined to believe that Bombay, and not "the vexed Bermoothes," was the island of Prospero, and that the plagues showered upon Caliban still remain. Though the progress of acclimation can scarcely fail to be attended by danger to life or limb, the process, when completed, seems to be very effectual, since little or no pains are taken by the old inhabitants to guard against the evil.
Some of the withdrawing-rooms of Bombay are perfectly open at either end, and though the effect is certainly beautiful--a charming living landscape of wood and water, framed in by the pillars at the angles of the chamber--yet it is enjoyed at too great a risk. Dining-rooms are frequently nearly as much exposed, the aim of everybody apparently being to admit as great a quantity of air as possible, no matter from what point of the compass it blows. Strangers, therefore, however guarded they may be in their own apartments, can never emerge from them without incurring danger, and it is only by clothing themselves more warmly than can be at all reconciled with comfort, that they can escape from rheumatic or other painful attacks.
These land-winds are also very destructive to the goods and chattels exposed to them; desks are warped and will not shut, leather gloves and shoes become so dry that they shrink and divide, while all unseasoned wood is speedily split across. It is said that the hot weather is never so fierce in Bombay as in Bengal, the sea-breezes, which sometimes blow very strongly, and are not so injurious as those from the land, affording a daily relief.
It may be necessary, for the advantage of succeeding travellers, to say that, in passing down the Red Sea, in the autumn and winter months, no danger need be apprehended from the effects of the climate upon coloured silks. It was not possible for me to burthen myself with tin cases, and I was obliged to put my wearing apparel, ribbons, &c, into portmanteaus, with no other precaution than a wrapper of brown paper. Nothing, however, was injured, and satin dresses previously worn came out as fresh as possible: a circumstance which never happens in the voyage round the Cape.
And now, while upon the subject of dress, I will further say, that it is advisable for ladies to bring out with them to Bombay every thing they can possibly want, since the shops, excepting immediately after the arrival of a ship, are very poorly provided, while the packs, for few have attained to the dignity of tin boxes, brought about by the hawkers, contain the most wretched assortment of goods imaginable. The moment, therefore, that the cargo of a vessel hag been purchased by the retail dealers, all that is really elegant or fashionable is eagerly purchased, and the rejected articles, even should they be equally excellent, when once consigned to the dingy precincts of a Bombay shop, lose all their lustre. The most perfect bonnet that Maradan ever produced, if once gibbeted in one of Muncherjee's glass-cases, could never be worn by a lady of the slightest pretensions. Goods to the amount of L300 were sold in one morning, it is said, in the above-mentioned worthy's shop, and those who were unable to pay it a visit on the day of the opening of the cases, must either content themselves with the leavings, or wait the arrival of another ship.
It is but justice to Miss Lyndsay, the English milliner, to say that she always appears to be well provided; but as her establishment is the only one of the kind in Bombay, there must necessarily be a sameness in the patterns of the articles made up. The want of variety is the evil most strongly felt in Anglo-Indian toilets; and, therefore, in preparing investments, large numbers of the same pieces of silk ribbons should be avoided, nobody liking to appear in a general uniform, or livery.
The stoppage of the China trade has cut off one abundant source of supply, of which the ladies of Bombay were wise enough to avail themselves. It is difficult now to procure a morsel of China silk in the shops, and there appears to be little chance of any goods of the kind coming into the market, until the present differences between Great Britain and the Celestial Empire shall be adjusted. With the exception of the common and trifling articles brought about by hawkers, every thing that is wanted for an Anglo-Indian establishment must be sent for to the Fort, from which many of the houses are situated, four, five, or six miles.
As there are populous villages at Bycullah, Mazagong, &c, it seems strange that no European bazaars have been established at these intermediate places for the convenience of the inhabitants, who, with the exception of a few fowls, do not usually keep much in the way of a farmyard. With an increase in the number of inhabitants, of course shops would start up in the most eligible situations, and should the anticipated change take place, and Bombay become the seat of the Supreme Government, the demands of the new establishment would no doubt be speedily supplied.
It is impossible, however idle the speculation may be, not to busy the mind with fancies concerning the site of the city which it is supposed would arise in the event of the Governor-general being instructed to take up his abode at Bombay. The Esplanade has been mentioned as the most probable place, although in building over this piece of ground the island would, in a great measure, be deprived of its lungs, and the enjoyment of that free circulation of air, which appears to be so essential to the existence of Anglo-Indians, who seem to require the whole expanse of heaven in order to breathe with freedom. The happy medium between the want of air and its excess will not answer the demand, and accordingly the Esplanade, no matter how strongly the wind blows, is a favourite resort. Although its general features are unattractive, it occasionally presents a very animated scene; the review of the troops in the garrison is seen to great advantage, and forms a spectacle always interesting and imposing.
This mustering of the troops is occasionally varied by military exercises of a more novel nature. The sailors of the flag-ship are brought on shore, for the purpose of perfecting themselves in the manual and platoon exercise, and in the performance of such military evolutions as would enable them to co-operate successfully with a land force, or to act alone with greater efficiency upon any emergency. Though not possessing much skill in military affairs, I was pleased with the ease and precision with which they executed the different movements, their steadiness in marching, and the promptness with which the line was dressed. They brought field-pieces on shore with them, which, according to my poor judgment, were admirably worked. These parades were the more interesting, in consequence of the expected war with China, a war in which the sailors of the Wellesley will, no doubt, be actively engaged.
I had also an opportunity of witnessing from the deck of that vessel, when accompanying the Governor's party on board, the manoeuvring of the ship's boats while landing a force. The mock fight was carried on with great spirit, and the most beautiful effect; the flashing from the guns in the bows of the boats and the musketry, amid the exquisite blue smoke issuing from the smaller species of artillery, producing fire-works which, in my opinion, could not be excelled by any of the most elaborate construction. The features of the landscape, no doubt, assisted to heighten the effect of the scene--a back-ground of lovely purple islands--a sea, like glass, calmly, brightly, beautifully blue--and the flotilla of boats, grouped as a painter would group them, and carrying on a running fire, which added much to the animation of their evolutions, the smoke occasionally enveloping the whole in vapour, and then showing the eager forms of men, as it rolled off in silvery clouds towards the distant hills.
As I gazed upon this armament, and upon the palm-woods that fringed the shore, I could not help calling to mind the lawless doings of the buccaneers of old, and the terror spread through towns and villages by the appearance of a fleet of boats, manned by resolute crews, and armed with the most deadly weapons of destruction. The sight realized also the descriptions given in modern novels of the capture of towns, and I could easily imagine the great excitement which would lead daring men to the execution of deeds, almost incredible to those who have never felt their spirits stirred and their arms nerved by danger, close, imminent, and only to be mastered by the mightiest efforts.
When any tamasha, as the natives call it, is going on upon the Esplanade, near the beach, they add very considerably to the effect of the scene, by grouping themselves upon the bales of cotton, piled near the wharf for exportation: those often appear to be a mass of human beings, so thickly are they covered with eager gazers. Upon the occasion of the departure of Sir Henry Fane to England, there appeared to be a general turn-out of the whole of Bombay, and the effect was impressive and striking. The road down to the Bunder, or place of embarkation, was lined with soldiers, the bands of the different regiments playing while the cortege passed. All the ladies made their appearance in open carriages, while the gentlemen mounted on horseback, and joined the cavalcade. A large party of native gentlemen assembled on foot at the Bunder, for the purpose of showing a last mark of respect to a distinguished officer, about to leave the country for ever.
Sir Henry, accompanied by his staff, but all in plain clothes, drove down the road in a barouche, attended by an escort of cavalry, and seemed to be much affected by the tokens of esteem which he received on every hand. He left the shore amidst the waving of handkerchiefs, and a salute of seventeen guns, and would have been greeted with hearty cheers, did military discipline allow of such manifestation of the feelings.
Sights and scenes like these will, of course, always attract numerous spectators, while on the evenings in which the band plays, there is a fair excuse for making the Esplanade the object of the drive; but Bombay affords so many avenues possessing much greater beauty, that I am always delighted when I can diversify the scene by a visit to places not nearly so much in request, but which are to me infinitely more interesting, as developing some charm of nature, or displaying the habits and manners of the people of the country. With these views and feelings, I was much pleased at receiving an invitation to accompany some friends to a fair held in Mahim Wood--that sea of palm-trees, which I had often looked down upon from Chintapootzlee Hill with so much pleasure.
The fair was held, as is usual in oriental countries, in honour of a saint, whose canonized bones rest beneath a tomb apparently of no great antiquity, but which the people, who are not the best chronologists in the world, fancy to be of very ancient date. The name of the celebrated person thus enshrined was Mugdooree Sahib, a devotee, who added the gift of prophecy to his other high qualifications, and amongst other things has predicted that, when the town shall join the wood, Bombay shall be no more. The accomplishment of what in his days must have appeared very unlikely ever to take place--namely, the junction of inhabited dwellings with the trees of Mahim--seems to be in rapid course of fulfilment; the land has been drained, many portions formerly impassable filled up, and rendered solid ground, while the houses are extending so fast, that the Burruh Bazaar will in no very long period, in all probability, extend to Mahim. Those who attach some faith to the prophecy, yet are unwilling to believe that evil and not good will befal the "rising presidency," are of opinion that some change of name will take place when it shall be made the seat of the Supreme Government: thus the saint's credit will be saved, and no misfortune happen to the good town of Bombay. The superstitious of all persuasions, the Christians perhaps excepted--though many of the Portuguese Christians have little more than the name--unite in showing reverence to the shrine of the saint, while Mugdooree Sahib is held quite as much in estimation by the Hindus as by the followers of he own corrupted creed, the Mohammedans of Bombay being by no means orthodox.
Many respectable natives have built houses for themselves at Mahim, on purpose to have a place for their families during the time of the fair, while others hire houses or lodgings, for which they will pay as much as twenty rupees for the few days that it lasts. A delightful drive brought us to the confines of the wood; the whole way along, we passed one continuous string of bullock-carriages, filled with people of all tribes and castes, while others, who could not afford this mode of conveyance, were seen in groups, trudging on foot, leading their elder children, and carrying their younger in their arms. The road wound very prettily through the wood, which at every turn presented some charming bits of forest scenery, shown to great advantage in the crimson light of evening, which, as it faded, produced those wild, shadowy illusions, which lend enchantment to every view. Parasitical plants, climbing up the trunks of many of the trees, and flinging themselves in rich garlands from bough to bough, relieved the monotony of the tall, straight palm-trees, and produced delicious green recesses, the dearest charm of woodland scenery.
I have frequently felt a strong desire to dwell under the shade of forest boughs, for there is something in that sylvan kind of life so redolent of the hunter's merry horn, the mating song of birds, and the gurgling of secret rills, as to possess indescribable charms to a lover of the picturesque. Now, however, experience in sober realities having dispelled the illusions of romance, I should choose a cottage in some cleared space by the wood-side, though at this dry season of the year, and mid the perpetual sunshine of its skies, the heart of Mahim Wood would form a very agreeable residence.
The first house we came to was very comfortable, and almost English in its appearance; a small, neat mansion, with its little court-yard before it, such as we should not be surprised to see in some old-fashioned country village at home. Straggling huts on either side brought us to the principal street of Mahim, and here we found the houses lighted, and lamps suspended, in imitation of bunches of grapes, before all that were ambitious of making a good appearance.
After passing the shops belonging to the village--the grain-sellers, the pan-sellers, and other venders of articles in common demand--we came to a series of booths, exactly resembling those used for the same purpose in England, and well supplied with both native and foreign products. The display was certainly much greater than any I had expected to see. Some of the shops were filled with French, English, and Dutch toys; others with China and glass ornaments; then came one filled with coloured glass bangles, and every kind of native ornament in talc and tinsel, all set off with a profusion of lights. Instead of gingerbread, there were immense quantities of metai, or sweetmeats, of different shapes and forms, and various hues; sugar rock-work, pink, white, and yellow, with all sorts and descriptions of cakes. The carriage moved slowly through the crowd, and at length, finding it inconvenient to proceed farther in it, we alighted.
Our party had come to Mahim upon the invitation of a very respectable moonshee, who had his country-house there, and who was anxious to do the honours of the fair to the English strangers, my friends, like myself, being rather new to Bombay. We met the old gentleman at an opening in the village, leading to the tomb of the saint, and his offer to conduct us to the sacred shrine formed a farther inducement to leave the carriage, and venture through the crowd on foot.
The tomb, which was strongly illuminated, proved to be a white-washed building, having a dome in the centre, and four minarets, one at each angle, standing in a small enclosure, the walls of which were also newly white-washed, and approached by a flight of steps, leading into a portico. Upon either side of the avenue from the village were seated multitudes of men and women, who, if not beggars by profession, made no scruple to beg on this occasion.
I felt at first sorry that I had neglected to bring any money with me, but when I saw the crowd of applicants, whom it would have been impossible to satisfy, and recollected that my liberality would doubtless have been attributed to faith in the virtues of the saint, I no longer regretted the omission. The steps of the tomb were lined with these beggars, all vociferating at once, while other religious characters were singing with all the power of their lungs, and a native band, stationed in the verandah of the tomb, were at the same time making the most hideous discord by the help of all kinds of diabolical instruments.
Having a magistrate of our party, we were well protected by the police, who, without using any rudeness, kept the people off. So far from being uncivil, the natives seemed pleased to see us at the fair, and readily made way, until we came to the entrance of the chamber in which, under a sarcophagus, the body of the saint was deposited. Here we were told that we could proceed no farther, unless we consented to take off our shoes, a ceremony with which we did not feel disposed to comply, especially as we could see all that the chamber contained through the open door, and had no intention to pay homage to the saint. The sarcophagus, according to custom, was covered with a rich pall, and the devout pressed forward to lay their offerings upon it. These offerings consisted of money, cloths, grain, fruit, &c. nothing coming amiss, the priests of the temple being quite ready to take the gifts which the poorest could bestow. The beggars in the porch were more clamorous than ever, the maam sahibs being especially entreated to bestow their charity.
Having satisfied my curiosity, I was glad to get away into the fair, where I found many things more interesting. Convenient spaces in the wood were filled with merry-go-rounds, swings, and other locomotive machinery, of precisely the same description as those exhibited in England, and which I had seen in Hyde Park at the fair held there, in honour of Queen Victoria. Mahim Wood boasted no theatres or wild-beast shows, neither were we treated with the sight of giants or dwarfs; but there was no want of booths for the purpose of affording refreshment. One of these cafes, the front of which was entirely open, was most brilliantly illuminated, and filled with numerous tables, covered with a multitude of good things. That it was expected to be the resort of English guests was apparent, from an inscription painted in white letters, rather askew, upon a black board, to the following effect: "Tea, Coffee, and Pastry-House."
We were invited to enter this splendid establishment by the moonshee, who had evidently ordered a refection to be prepared for the occasion. Being unwilling to disappoint the old gentleman, we took the seats offered to us, and ate the cakes, and drank the coffee, presented by some respectable-looking Parsees, the owners of the shop, which they had taken pains to set off in the European style. Although the natives of India will not eat with us, as they know that we do not scruple to partake of food prepared for their tables, they are mortified and disappointed at any refusal to taste the good things set before us; the more we eat, the greater being the compliment. I was consequently obliged to convey away some of the cakes in my handkerchief, to avoid the alternatives of making myself ill or of giving offence.
When we were sufficiently rested and refreshed, we followed the moonshee to his mansion. The moon was at the full, and being at this time well up, lighted us through the less thronged avenues of the village, these tangled lanes, with the exception of a few candles, having no other illumination. Here, seated in corners upon the ground, were the more humble traders of the fair, venders of fruit, the larger kind being divided into slices for the convenience of poor customers. In one spot, a group of dissipated characters were assembled round bottles and drinking-vessels (of which the contents bore neither the colour nor the smell of sherbet), who were evidently determined to make a night of it over the fermented juice of the palm. From what I have seen, I am inclined to believe sobriety to be as rare a virtue in Bombay as in London; toddy-shops appear to be greatly upon the increase, and certainly in every direction there are already ample means of gratifying a love of spirituous liquors. In other places, the usual occupation of frying fish was going on, while a taste for sweet things might be gratified by confectionary of an ordinary description compared with that exhibited in the shops.
As we receded from the fair, the bright illumination in the distance, the twinkling lights in the fore-ground, dimly revealing dusky figures cowering round their fires, and the dark depths of the wood beyond, with now and then a gleam of moonshine streaming on its tangled paths, made up a landscape roll of scenic effects. Getting deeper and deeper into the wood, we came at last to a small modest mansion, standing in the corner of a garden, and shadowed by palm-trees, through which the moon-beams chequered our path. We did not enter the house, contenting ourselves with seats in the verandah, where the children of our host, his wife or wives not making their appearance, were assembled. The elder boys addressed us in very good English, and were, the moonshee told us, well acquainted with the Guzerattee and Mahratta languages; he had also bestowed an education upon his daughters, who were taught to read in the vernacular.
The old man told us that he was born in Mahim Wood at the time of the festival, and, though a Hindu, had had the name of Mugdooree, that of the saint, bestowed upon him, for a good omen. Having a great affection for his native place, he had, as soon as he could command the means, built the house which we now saw, and in which he always resided during the fair, which was called oories, or the Mugdooree Sahib's oories, at Mahim. After sitting some time with the old man, and admiring the effect of the moonlight among the palm-trees, we rose to depart. In taking leave of the spot, I could not repress a wish to see it under a different aspect, although it required very slight aid from fancy to picture it as it would appear in the rains, with mildew in the drip of those pendant palm branches, green stagnant pools in every hollow, toads crawling over the garden paths, and snakes lurking beneath every stone.
Returning to the place in which we had left the carriage, we found the fair more crowded than ever, the numbers of children, if possible, exceeding those to be seen at English places of resort of the same nature. The upper rooms of the superior houses, many of which seemed to be large and handsome, were well lighted and filled with company, many of the most respectable amongst the Hindus, Mohammedans, and Parsees, repairing to Mahim, to recreate themselves during the festival. The shops had put on even a gayer appearance, and though there was no rich merchandize to be seen, the character of the meeting being merely that of a rustic fair, I was greatly surprised by the elegance of some of the commodities, and the taste of their arrangement.
It was evident that all the purchasers must be native, and consequently I could not help feeling some astonishment at the large quantities of expensive European toys with which whole booths were filled. Dolls, which were to me a novelty in my late visit to Paris, with real hair dressed in the newest fashion, were abundant; and so were those excellent representations of animals from Germany, known by the name of "Barking toys." The price of these things, demanded of our party at least, was high. I had wished to possess myself of something as a remembrance of this fair, but as the old moonshee was the only individual amongst us who carried any money about him, I did not like him to become my banker on this occasion, lest he should not permit me to pay him again, and I should by this means add to the disbursements already made upon our account.
Upon leaving the fair, we found some difficulty in steering our way through the bullock-carriages which almost blocked up the road, and as we drove along the grand thoroughfare towards Girgaum, a populous portion of the native town, the visitants seemed to increase; cart followed upon cart in quick succession, all the bullocks in Bombay, numerous as they are, appearing to have been mustered for the occasion.
In the different drives which I have taken through the island, I have come upon several fine tanks, enclosed by solid masonry of dark-coloured stone; but, with the exception, in some instances, of one or two insignificant pillars or minarets, they are destitute of those architectural ornaments which add so much splendour to the same works in Bengal. The broad flights of steps, the richly decorated temple, or the range of small pagodas, so frequently to be seen by the side of the tanks and bowlies in other parts of India, are here unknown; the more ancient native buildings which I have yet examined being, comparatively speaking, of a mean and paltry description, while all the handsome modern houses are built after the European manner. There is one feature, however, with which I am greatly pleased--the perpetual recurrence of seats and ledges made in the walls which enclose gentlemen's gardens and grounds, or run along the roads, and which seem to be intended as places of repose for the wayfarer, or as a rest to his burthen.
It is always agreeable to see needful accommodation afforded to the poor and to the stranger; public benefits, however trifling, displaying liberality of mind in those who can give consideration to the wants and feelings of multitudes from whom they can hope for no return. These seats frequently occur close to the gate of some spacious dwelling, and may be supposed to be intended for the servants and dependants of the great man, or those who wait humbly on the outside of his mansion; but they as frequently are found upon the high roads, or by the side of wells and tanks.
The festival of the Duwallee has taken place since my arrival in Bombay, and though I have seen it celebrated before, and more splendidly in one particular--namely, the illuminations--I never had the same opportunity of witnessing other circumstances connected with ceremonies performed at the opening of the new year of the Hindus. When I speak of the superiority of the illuminations, I allude to their taste and effect; there were plenty of lights in Bombay, but they were differently disposed, and did not mark the outline of the buildings in the beautiful manner which prevails upon the other side of India, every person lighting up his own house according to his fancy. Upon the eve of the new year, while driving through the bazaar, we saw preparations for the approaching festival; many of the houses were well garnished with lamps, the shops were swept and put into order, and the horns of the bullocks were garlanded with flowers, while fire-works, and squibs and crackers, were going off in all directions.
On the following evening, I went with a party of friends, by invitation, to the house of a native gentleman, a Parsee merchant of old family and great respectability, and as we reached the steps of his door, a party of men came up with sticks in their hands, answering to our old English morice-dancers. These men were well clad in white dresses, with flowers stuck in their turbans; they formed a circle somewhat resembling the figure of moulinet, but without joining hands, the inner party striking their sticks as they danced round against those on the outer ring, and all joining in a rude but not unmusical chorus. The gestures of these men, though wild, were neither awkward nor uncouth, the sticks keeping excellent time with the song and with the action of their feet. After performing sundry evolutions, and becoming nearly out of breath, they desisted, and called upon the spectators to reward their exertions. Having received a present, they went into the court-yard of the next mansion, which belonged to one of the richest native merchants in Bombay, and there renewed their dance.
We found in the drawing-room of our host's house a large company assembled. The upper end was covered with a white cloth, and all round, seated on the floor against the walls, were grave-looking Parsees, many being of advanced years. They had their books and ledgers open before them, the ceremony about to be commenced consisting of the blessing or consecration of the account-books, in order to secure prosperity for the ensuing year. The officiating priests were brahmins, the custom and the festival--of which Lacshmee, the goddess of wealth, is the patroness--being purely Hindu.
The Parsees of India, sole remnant of the ancient fire-worshippers, have sadly degenerated from that pure faith held by their forefathers, and for which they became fugitives and exiles. What persecution failed to accomplish, kindness has effected, and their religion has been corrupted by the taint of Hinduism, in consequence of their long and friendly intercourse with the people, who permitted them to dwell in their land, and to take their daughters in marriage. Incense was burning on a tripod placed upon the floor, and the priests muttering prayers, which sounded very like incantations, ever and anon threw some new perfume upon the charcoal, which produced what our friend Dousterswivel would call a "suffumigation." These preliminaries over, they caused each person to write a few words in the open book before him, and then threw upon the leaves a portion of grain. After this had been distributed, they made the circle again, and threw gold leaf upon the volumes; then came spices and betel-nut, cut in small pieces, and lastly flowers, and a profusion of the red powder (abeer) so lavishly employed in Hindu festivals. More incense was burned, and the ceremony concluded, the merchants rising and congratulating each other. Formerly, when our host was a more wealthy man than, in consequence of sundry misfortunes, he is at present, he was in the habit of disbursing Rs. 10,000 in gifts upon this day: everybody that came to the house receiving something.
The custom of blessing the books, after the Hindu manner, will in all probability shortly decline among the Parsees, the younger portion being already of opinion that it is a vain and foolish ceremony, borrowed from strangers; and, indeed, the elders of the party were at some pains to convince me that they merely complied with it in consequence of a stipulation entered into with the Hindus, when they granted them an asylum, to observe certain forms and ceremonies connected with their customs, assuring me that they did not place any reliance upon the favour of the goddess, looking only for the blessing of God to prosper their undertakings.
This declaration, however, was somewhat in contradiction to one circumstance, which I omitted to mention, namely, that before the assembled Parsees rose from the floor, they permitted the officiating brahmins to mark their foreheads with the symbol of the goddess, thus virtually admitting her supremacy. The lamps were then lighted, and we were presented with the usual offering of bouquets of roses, plentifully bedewed with goolabee panee, or the distilled tears of the flower, to speak poetically; and having admired the children of the family, who were brought out in their best dresses and jewels, took our leave. The ladies, the married daughters and daughters-in-law of our host, did not make their appearance upon this occasion; for, though not objecting to be seen in public, they are not fond of presenting themselves in their own houses before strangers.
It is the women of India who are at this moment impeding the advance of improvement; they have hitherto been so ill-educated, their minds left so entirely uncultivated, that they have had nothing to amuse or interest them excepting the ceremonies of their religion, and the customs with which it is encumbered. These, notwithstanding that many are inconvenient, and others entail much suffering, they are unwilling to relinquish. Every departure from established rule, which their male relatives deem expedient, they resolutely oppose, employing the influence which women, however contemned as the weaker vessel, always do possess, and always will exert, in perpetuating all the evils resulting from ignorance. The sex will ever be found active either in advancing or retarding great changes, and whether this activity be employed for good or for evil, depends upon the manner in which their intellectual faculties have been trained and cultivated.
It appears to me that, although education is making great progress in Bombay, all it has yet accomplished of good appears upon the surface, it not having yet wrought any radical change in the feelings and opinions of the people, or, excepting in few instances, directing their pursuits to new objects. I give this opinion, however, with great diffidence--merely as an impression which a longer residence in Bombay may remove; meanwhile, I lose no opportunity of acquainting myself with the native community, and I hope to gather some interesting information relative to the probable effects of the system now adopting at the different national schools.
As far as I can judge, a little of Uncle Jonathan's fervour in progressing is wanting here; neither the Anglo-Indian or native residents seem to manifest the slightest inclination to "go ahead;" and while they complain loudly of the apathy evinced at home to all that concerns their advantage and prosperity, are quite content to drowze over their old dustoors (customs), and make no attempt to direct the public attention in England to subjects of real importance.
Though unwilling to indulge in premature remarks, these are pressed upon me by the general complaints which I hear upon all sides; but though everybody seems to lament the evil, no one exerts himself to effect a remedy, and while much is talked of individually, little is done by common consent. One great bar to improvement consists, I am told, of the voluminous nature of the reports upon all subjects, which are heaped together until they become so hopelessly bulky, that nobody can be prevailed upon to wade through them. In England, at all public meetings, a great deal of time and breath are wasted in superfluous harangues; but these can only effect the remote mischief threatened by Mr. Babbage, and produce earthquakes and other convulsions in distant lands, in distant centuries; whereas the foolscap is a present and a weighty evil, and has probably swamped more systems of improvement, and more promising institutions, than any other enemy, however active.
The intellectual community of India seems yet to have to learn the advantage of placing all that relates to it in a clear, succinct, and popular form, and of bringing works before the British public which will entertain as well as instruct, and lead those who are employed in legislating for our Eastern territories to inquire more deeply into those subjects which so materially affect its political, moral, and commercial prosperity.