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XII. Citizens of Bombay: The Memon and Rangari

Would you learn how the Memon and the Rangari--two of the most notable inhabitants of the city--pass the waking hours? They are early risers as a rule and are ready to repair to the nearest mosque directly the Muezzin's call to prayer breaks the silence of the approaching dawn, and when the prayers are over they return to a frugal breakfast of bread soaked in milk or tea and then open their shops for the day's business. If his trade permits it, the middle-class Memon will himself go a-marketing, taking with him a "jambil" or Arab-made basket of date-leaves in which to place his vegetables, his green spices, his meat and a little of such fruit as may be in season. His other requisites,--flour, pulse, sugar and molasses,--come to him in what he calls his "khata,"--his account with a neighbouring retail-dealer. He is by no means beloved of the Bombay shop-keeper, for he is strict in his observance of the "sunna" which bids him haggle "till his forehead perspires, just as it did in winning the money". The Bombay shop-keeper commences by asking an exorbitant price for his commodities; our Memon retorts by offering the least they could possibly fetch; and the battle between the maximum and the minimum eventually settles itself somewhere about the golden mean, whereupon the Memon hies him homewards as full of satisfaction as Thackeray's Jew. In many cases the mother of the house or the sister, if old, widowed and in the words of the Koran "despairing of a marriage," performs the business of shopping and proves herself no less adept than her kinsman at driving a bargain.

About mid-day the Memon or Rangari has his chief meal consisting of leavened or unleavened bread, meat curry or stew or two "kababs" or fried fish, followed perhaps by mangoes, when in season; and when this is over he indulges in a siesta whenever his business allows of it. The afternoon prayers are followed by re-application to business, which keeps him busy in his shop until 8 or 9 p.m., when he again returns home to a frugal supper of "khichdi." It is hardly a satisfying meal, and many young Memons indulge in a fresh collation before retiring to rest. The "khichdi" finished, the young members of the family set forth for their evening resorts, nor forbear to take such refreshment as the city offers on their journey. They purchase a glass of ice-cream here, accept a cup of tea offered by a friend there or purchase a tumbler of "faludah," which plays the same part in the Mahomedan life of Bombay as macaroni does in the life of the Neapolitan. It consists of rice-gruel, cooked and allowed to cool in large copper-trays and sold at the corners of Mahomedan streets. On receiving a demand, the Faludah-seller cuts out a slice from the seemingly frozen mass, puts it into a large tumbler mixes sugar and sherbet with it, and then hands it to his customer who swallows the mixture with every sign of deep satisfaction. If possessed of a conveyance the middle-class Memon will drive about sunset to the Apollo Bunder, Breach Candy or the Bandstand. Happy possessor of a tolerably decent horse and victoria, he considers himself above the conventionalities of dress, and thus may be seen in the skull-cap, waist-coat, long white shirt and trousers which constitute his shop or business-attire, attended not infrequently by little miniatures of himself in similar garb. Reaching the Bunder he silences the importunity of the children by a liberal purchase of salted almonds and pistachios or grain fried in oil, and passes an hour or so in discussing with a friend the market-rate of grain, cotton, ghi, or indigo.

If young, the middle-class Memon and Rangari is fond of the native theatres where he rewards Parsi histrionic talent by assiduous attention and exclamations of approval. He and his friends break their journey home by a visit to an Irani or Anglo-Indian soda-water shop, where they repeat the monotonous strain of the theatre songs and assure themselves of the happiness of the moment by asking one another again and again:--"Kevi majha" (what bliss!) to which comes the reply "Ghani majha" or "sari majha"
(great bliss!). Then perhaps, if the night is still young, they will knock up the household of a singer and demand a song or two from her. Phryne cannot refuse, however late the hour may be, but she has her revenge by charging a very high price for her songs, which her "ustads" or musicians take care to pocket beforehand. Home is at length reached, and there after a final supper of "malai ke piyale" (cups of cream) and hard-boiled eggs the young Memon disappears until the morrow. The older and more settled members of the community amuse themselves till mid-night by congregating in the tea and coffee shops of the city and there discussing the general trend of trade. Others have formed unions, which assemble at the house of each member in turn and spend a few hours in singing the "maulud" or hymns on the birth of the Prophet (upon whom be peace). These hymns, in pure Hejazi verse, are sung in different measures and are not unpleasant to the ear at a distance. Another peculiar Memon custom is the street-praying for rain. A number of men and boys assemble about 9 p.m., in the street and sing chants set to music by some poet of Gujarat or Hindustan. The chants are really prayers to God for rain, for forgiveness of sins and for absolution from ingratitude for former bounties. One with a strong voice sings the recitative, and then the chorus breaks in with the words "Order, O Lord, the rain-cloud of thy mercy!" Thus chanting the company wanders from street to street till midnight and continues the practice nightly until the rain falls.

A Rangari betrothal though simple enough in itself contains certain elements of interest. The father of the bridegroom usually informs the Patel of the caste that his son's betrothal will take place on a certain day, and on the evening of that day the bridegroom's retinue, accompanied by the Patel and various friends and relations, journeys to the house of the bride. After the company has fully assembled someone brings forward a cocoanut on a tray with a few copper coins beside it. The Patel then asks why the cocoanut has been brought, to which one of the bride's supporters replies "It is for the betrothal of the daughter of Zeid with Omar." This feature of the ceremony is obviously of Hindu origin and must be a legacy of the days when the Rangaris, not yet converted to Islam, belonged to the Hindu Khatri or Kshattriya caste of Gujarat and Cutch. For the loose copper coins, which till recently were styled "dharam-paisa," must be lingering remnants of the Brahman "dakshina," which always accompanied the "shripal" or auspicious fruit; while among Hindus from the very earliest ages cocoanuts have been sent by the bride to the bridegroom, sometimes as earnest of an offer of marriage, sometimes in token of acceptance. After this ceremony is complete the parties cannot retract, the ceremony being considered equivalent to a "nikah" or actual registration by the Kazi; and this fact again discovers the Hindu origin of the Mahomedan Rangaris and of their customs, for among foreign Musulmans the betrothal is a mere period of probation and is terminable at the desire of either party. The "dharam-paisa" usually finds its way into the pocket of the street-Mulla, who has a room in the neighbouring mosque and is charged with the circulation of invitations to all members of the Rangari jamat to assemble at the bride-groom's house for the betrothal-ceremony.