But a sparrow is usually well fed and quite happy. It has no property simply because it wants none. If it stored honey like the busy bee, or nuts like the thrifty squirrel, it would be a prey to constant anxiety and stand in hourly danger of being plundered of its possessions, and perhaps killed for the sake of them. Therefore to speak of a Hindu's poverty as if it certainly implied want and unhappiness is mere misrepresentation born of ignorance. In all ages there have been men so enamoured of the possessionless life that they have abandoned their worldly goods and formed brotherhoods pledged to lifelong poverty. The majority of religious beggars in India belong to brotherhoods of this kind, and are the sturdiest and best-fed men to be seen in the country, especially in time of famine.
But the Hindu peasant is not a begging friar, and may be supposed to have some share of the love of money which is common to humanity; so it is worth while to inquire why he is normally so very poor. There are two reasons, both of which are so obvious and have so often been pointed out by those who have known him best, that there is little excuse for overlooking them. The first of them is thus stated in Tennant's _Indian Recreations_, written in 1797, before British rule had affected the people of India much in one direction or another. "Industry can hardly be ranked among their virtues. Among all classes it is necessity of subsistence and not choice that urges to labour; a native will not earn six rupees a month by working a few hours more, if he can live upon three; and if he has three he will not work at all," Such was the Hindu a century ago in the eyes of an observant and judicious man, studying him with all the sympathetic interest of novelty, and such he is now.
The other reason for the chronic poverty of the Indian peasant is that, if he had money beyond his immediate necessity, he could not keep it. It is the despair of the Government of India and of every English official who endeavours to improve his condition that he cannot keep his land, or his cattle, or anything else on which his permanent welfare depends. The following extract from _The Reminiscences of an Indian Police Official_ gives a lively picture of the effect of unaccustomed wealth, not on peasants, but on farmers owning land and cattle and used to something like comfort.
"Yellapa, like all cotton growers in that part of the Western Presidency, profited enormously by the high price of the staple during the American war. Silver was poured into the country (literally) in _crores_ (millions sterling), and cultivators who previously had as much as they could do to live, suddenly found themselves possessed of sums their imagination had never dreamt of. What to do with their wealth, how to spend their cash was their problem. Having laden their women and children with ornaments, and decked them out in expensive _sarees_, they launched into the wildest extravagance in the matter of carts and trotting bullocks, going even as far as silver-plated yokes and harness studded with silver mountings. Even silver tyres to the wheels became the fashion. Twelve and fifteen rupees were eagerly paid for a pair of trotting bullocks. Trotting matches for large stakes were common; and the whole rural population appeared with expensive red silk umbrellas, which an enterprising English firm imported as likely to gratify the general taste for display. Many took to drink, not country liquors such as had satisfied them previously, but British brandy, rum, gin, and even champagne."
A few pages further on the author tells us of the ruin by debt and drunkenness of the families which had indulged in these extravagances.
The fact is that to keep for to-morrow what is in the hand to-day demands imagination, purpose and self-discipline, which the Hindu working man has not. He is the product of centuries, during which his rulers made the life of to-morrow too uncertain, while his climate made the life of to-day too easy. No outward applications will alone cure his poverty, because it is a symptom of an inward disease.
When a healthier state of mind shall awaken an appetite for comforts and conveniences, and create necessities unknown to his fathers, then degrading poverty will no longer be possible as the common lot. And it was to be hoped that the British rule would in time have this happy effect. Tennant evidently thought that it had begun to do so even in his day. "The existence," he says, "of a regular British Government is but a recent circumstance; yet in the course of a few years complete security has been afforded to all of its dependants; many new manufactures have been established, many more have been extended to answer the demands of a larger exportation. We have therefore conferred upon our Asiatic subjects an increase of security, of industry and of produce, and of consequent greater means of enjoyment."
It is therefore a very grave charge that Mr. Keir Hardie brings against the British Administration when he says, a century after these words were written, that the standard of living among the Hindu peasantry has deteriorated. Happily there does not appear to have been a close relation between facts and Mr. Keir Hardie's conclusions during his Indian tour, so we may continue to put our confidence in the many hopeful indications that exist of a distinct improvement in the ideal of life which has so long prevailed among our poor Indian fellow-subjects.
The rise in the wages of both skilled and unskilled labour during even the last thirty years, especially in and near important towns, has been most remarkable.
It is more to the point to know what the labourer is able to do and actually does with his wages, and here the returns of trade and the reports of the railway companies, post office and savings bank have striking evidence to offer. They are published annually, and anyone, even Mr. Keir Hardie, may consult them who likes his facts in statistical form. For those who live in India there are abundant evidences with more colour in them. Some thirty years ago, or more, there was a steamship company in Bombay owning two small steamers which carried passengers across the harbour. By degrees it extended its operations and increased its fleet until it had a daily service of fast steamers, with accommodation for nearly a thousand third-class passengers, which went down the coast as far as Goa, calling at every petty port on the way. The head of the firm retired some years ago, having made his pile. Seldom has a more profitable enterprise been started in Bombay. And whence did the profits come? From the pockets of Hindu peasants. The Mahrattas of the Ratnagiri District supply most of the "labour" required in Bombay, and for these the company spread its nets. And by their incessant coming and going it amassed its wealth.
Heads of mercantile firms and Government offices, and all who have to deal with the Mahratta "puttiwala," viewed its success without surprise.
Though always grumbling at his wages, he never appears to be without the means and the will to travel. A marriage, a religious ceremony in his family, or the death of some relative, requires his immediate presence in his village, and he asks for leave. If he cannot get it otherwise, he offers to forfeit his pay for the period. If it is still refused, he resigns his situation and goes. This does not indicate pinching poverty; there must be some margin between such men and starvation. And a saunter through their villages will amply confirm such a surmise.
It is no uncommon thing in these coast villages to see that foreign luxury, a chair, perhaps even an easy-chair, in the verandah of a common Bhundaree (toddy-drawer). The rapidly growing use of chairs, glass tumblers, enamelled ironware, soda-water and lemonade, patent medicines, and even cheap watches, declares plainly that the young Hindu of the present day does not live as his fathers did. Men go better dressed, and their children are clothed at an earlier age. The advertisements in vernacular languages that one meets with, circulated and posted up in all sorts of places, tell the same tale convincingly; for the advertiser knows his business, and will not angle where no fish rise.
Nor are large towns like Bombay the only places where the Hindu peasant widens his horizon and acquires new tastes. In the Fiji Islands there are about 22,000 natives of India who went out as indentured coolies with the option of returning at the end of five years at their own expense, or after ten years at that of Government. When these men come home, they bring with them new tastes and new ideas, as well as the habit of saving money and thousands of rupees saved during their short exile. In Mauritius and South Africa the Hindu working man is learning the same lessons. When he gets back to the sleepy life of his native village, he is not likely to settle down contentedly at the level from which he started.
On every hand, in short, forces are at work stirring discontent in the breasts of the younger generation with the existence which was the heritage of their fathers. These forces operate from the outside, and the mass is large and very inert: it would be rash to say that in the heart of it there are not still millions who regard a monotonous struggle for a bare existence as their portion from Providence. But when a man who has travelled in India for half a cold season tells us that the standard of living in India has deteriorated, we are tempted to quote from Sir Ali Baba: "What is it that these travelling people put on paper? Let me put it in the form of a conundrum. Q. What is it that the travelling M.P. treasures up and the Anglo-Indian hastens to throw away?
A. Erroneous hazy, distorted impressions." "One of the most serious duties attending a residence in India is the correcting of those misapprehensions which your travelling M.P. sacrifices his bath to hustle upon paper."
BORROWED INDIAN WORDS
Of the results of the Roman supremacy in Britain none have been so permanent as their influence on our language. No doubt this was less due to any direct effect that their residence among the Britons had at the time on vernacular speech than to the fact that, for many centuries after their departure, Latin was the language, throughout Europe, of literature and scholarship. Our supremacy in India is acting on the languages of that country in both ways, and though it has scarcely lasted half as long yet as the Roman rule in Britain, English already bids fair to become one day the common tongue of the Hindus. But there is also a current flowing the other way, comparatively insignificant, but curious and interesting.
Few persons in England are aware how often they use words of Indian origin in common speech. In attempting to give a list of these I will exclude the trade names of articles of Indian produce or manufacture, which have no literary interest, and also words which indicate objects, ideas or customs that are not English, and therefore have no English equivalents, such as "tom-tom," "sepoy" and "suttee," I will also omit Indian words, such as "bundobust," and "griffin," which are used by writers like Thackeray in the same way in which French terms are commonly introduced into English composition.
Of course, it is not always possible to draw a hard and fast line. There are words which first came into England as the trade names of Indian products, but have extended their significance, or entirely changed it, and taken a permanent place in the English language. Pepper still means what it originally meant, but it has also become a verb. Another example is Shawl, a word which has lost all trace of its Oriental origin. It is a pure Hindustani word, pronounced "Shal," and indicating an article thus described in the seventeenth century by Thevenot, as quoted in Hobson-Jobson:--"Une Chal, qui est une maniere de toilette d'une laine tres fine qui se fait a Cachmir." With the article to England came the name, but soon spread itself over all fabrics worn in the same fashion, except the Scotch plaid, which held its own.
Somewhat similar is Calico, originally a fine cotton cloth imported from Calicut. This place is called Calicot by the natives, and may have dropped the final T through the influence of French dressmakers. Chintz is another example, being the Hindustani word "cheent," which means a spotted cotton cloth. In trade fabrics are always described in the plural, and the Z in Chintz is no doubt a perversion, through misunderstanding, of the terminal S. Lac is another Indian word which has retained its own meaning, but it has gone beyond it and given rise to a verb "to lacquer."
With these perhaps should be mentioned Pyjamas and Shampoo, both of which have undergone strange perversions. Pyjama is an Indian name for loose drawers or trousers tied with a cord round the waist, such as Mussulmans of both sexes wear. In India the Pyjama was long ago adopted, with a loose coat to match, as a more decent and comfortable costume than the British nightshirt, and when Anglo-Indians retired they brought the fashion home with them, English tailors called the whole costume a "Pyjama suit," but the second word was soon dropped and the first improved into the plural number.
"Shampoo" comes from a verb "champna," to press or squeeze, and the imperative, "champo," as often happens, was the form in which it became English. Forbes, in his _Oriental Memoirs_, writes of "the effects of opium, champoing and other luxuries indulged in by Oriental sensualists." When the medical profession in England began to patronise the practice, it assumed a more dignified name, "massage," and the old word was relegated to the hairdressers, who appropriated it to the washing of the head, an operation with which the word has no proper relation at all.
There are two words of doubtful derivation, which may be mentioned in this connection. Cot, in the sense of a light bed, or cradle, is not much used in England, but is given in Webster's and other dictionaries, with the same Saxon derivation, as the "cot beside the hill" which the poet Rogers sighed for. If this is correct, then it is at least curious that the word should have almost gone out of use in England and revived in India from a distinct root. There it is the term in every-day use for any rough bedstead, such as the natives sleep on and call a khat. The average Englishman cannot aspirate a K, and never pronounces the Indian A aright unless it is followed by an R, so khat becomes "cot" by a process of which there are many illustrations.
The other doubtful word mentioned above is Teapoy. It is defined in the dictionaries as an ornamental table, with a folding top, containing caddies for holding tea, but in India, where it is in much more general use than it is in England, it signifies simply a light tripod table and almost certainly comes from "teenpai" (three-foot), corresponding to another common word, "charpai" (four-foot), which means a native bedstead. The fact that it is sometimes spelled Tepoy confirms this, but the other spelling is commoner, and appears to have led to its getting a special meaning connected with tea among furniture sellers.
Cheroot, Bangle, Curry and Kidgeree are examples of words which have come to us with the things which they signify, and retain their meaning though the thing itself may have undergone some change. Curry as made in England is sometimes not recognisable by a new arrival from India, and Kidgeree is applied to a preparation of rice and fish, whereas it means properly a dish of rice, split peas and butter, or "ghee." Fish may be eaten with it, but is not an ingredient of it. Bazaar may be classed with these words, and also Polo, which is merely the name for a polo ball in the language of one of the Himalayan tribes from whom we learned the game. It is said to have been played in England for the first time at Aldershot in 1871.
More interest attaches to Gymkhana, for neither the word nor the thing which it signifies is Indian, though both originated in India, and the derivation of the word is unknown, though it is scarcely fifty years old. Several hybrid derivations have been suggested, none of them probable, and I lean to the suggestion that the starting-point of the word may have been "jumkhana", a term which, though it is not in Forbes's _Hindustani Dictionary,_ I have heard a native apply to a large cotton carpet, such as native acrobats, or wrestlers, might spread when about to give a performance. Our use of the words Arena, Stage, Boards, Footlights, etc., shows how easily a carpet might give name to a place of meeting for athletic exercises.
There is another class of words which have come into England through returned Anglo-Indians and spread by their own merit. One of these is Loot. The dictionary says that it means "to plunder," but it holds more than that or any equivalent English word. Perhaps it has scarcely risen above the level of slang yet, but the phrase "to run amuck" is classical, having been used by both Pope and Dryden. The pedantic attempt made by some writers to change the common way of writing it because the original Malay term is a single word, "amok," comes too late in view of Dryden's line,
"And runs an Indian muck at all he meets."
Cheese, in the sense of a thing, or rather of "the very thing," must be ranked as slang too, though very common. The slang dictionaries give fanciful derivations from Anglo-Saxon roots, or suggest that it is a perversion of "chose"; but it is a common Hindustani word for a thing, and when an Englishman in India finds some article which exactly suits his purpose and exclaims, "Ah! that's the cheese," no one needs to ask the derivation. If it did not come to us directly from India, then it came through the gipsies, for it is one of the many Hindustani words which occur in their language. Another word that came from India indirectly is Caste, but it is of Portuguese origin. The early Portuguese writers applied it ("casta") to the hereditary division of Hindu society, and the English adopted it. It has now become indispensable. We have no other word that could take its place in the lines,
Her manners had not that repose Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.
I must close with two familiar words which have been so long with us that few who use them ever suspect that they came from the East--namely, Punch and Toddy. The Rev. J. Ovington, who sailed to Bombay in 1689, in the ship that carried the glad news of the coronation of William and Mary, tells us that, in the East India Company's chief factory at Surat, the common table was supplied with "plenty of generous Sherash (Shiraz) wine and arak Punch," Arrack (properly "Urk"), sometimes abbreviated to Rack, means any distilled spirit, or essence, but is commonly used to distinguish country liquor from imported spirits. The Company's factors drank it because European wines and beer were at that time very expensive in India, and to reconcile it to their palates they made it into a brew called Punch, from the Indian word "panch," meaning five, because it contained five ingredients--viz. arrack, hot water, limes, sugar and spice. This was the ordinary drink of poor Englishmen in India for a longtime, and public "Punch-houses" existed in every settlement of the East India Company.
Now, one of the principal substances from which country liquor is distilled is palm juice, the native name for which, "tadee," has been perverted into "toddy" (as in the case of "cot" above-mentioned), and "toddy punch" meant the same thing as "arrack punch," Returning Anglo-Indians brought the receipt for making this brew to England, and lovers of Vanity Fair will remember how the whole course of that story was changed by the bowl of "rack punch" which Joseph Sedley ordered at Vauxhall, where "everybody had rack punch." How soon both the brew and its Indian name took firm root and spread among us appears from the fact that, at the Holy Fair described by Burns in the century before last, the lads and lasses sit round a table and "steer about the toddy."