Letters of Marque


by Rudyard Kipling


FROM the Cotton-Press the Englishman wandered through the wide streets till he came into a Hindu temple—rich in marble stone and inlay, and a deep and tranquil silence, close to the Public Library of the State. The brazen bull was hung with flowers, and men were burning the evening incense before Mahadeo; while those who had prayed their prayer beat upon the bells hanging from the roof and passed out, secure in the knowledge that the god had heard them. If there be much religion, there is little reverence, as Westerns understand the term, at the services of the gods of the East. A tiny little maiden, child of a monstrously ugly, wall-eyed priest, staggered across the marble pavement to the shrine and threw, with a gust of childish laughter, the blossoms she was carrying into the lap of the great Mahadeo himself. Then she made as though she would leap up to the bell, and ran away, still laughing, into the shadow of the cells behind the shrine, while her father explained that she was but a baby and that Mahadeo would take no notice. The temple, he said, was specially favoured by the Maharaja, and drew from lands an income of twenty thousand rupees a year. Thakurs and great men also gave gifts out of their benevolence; and there was nothing in the wide world to prevent an Englishman from following their example.

By this time—for Amber and the Cotton-Press had filled the hours—night was falling, and the priests unhooked the swinging jets and began to light up the impassive face of Mahadeo with gas! They used Swedish matches.

Full night brought the hotel and its curiously composed human menagerie.

There is, if a work-a-day world will believe, a society entirely outside, and unconnected with, that of the Station—a planet within a planet, where nobody knows anything about the Collector’s wife, the Colonel’s dinner-party, or what was really the matter with the Engineer. It is a curious, an insatiably curious, thing, and its literature is Newman’s Bradshaw. Wandering ‘old-arm sellers’ and others live upon it, and so do the garnetmen and the makers of ancient Rajput shields. The world of the innocents abroad is a touching and unsophisticated place, and its very atmosphere urges the Anglo-Indian unconsciously to an extravagant mendacity. Can you wonder, then, that a guide of long-standing should in time grow to be an accomplished liar?

Into this world sometimes breaks the Anglo-Indian returned from leave, or a fugitive to the sea, and his presence is like that of a well-known land-mark in the desert. The old-arms seller knows and avoids him, and he is detested by the jobber of gharris who calls every one ‘my lord’ in English, and panders to the ‘glaring race anomaly’ by saying that every carriage not under his control is ‘rotten, my lord, having been used by natives.’ One of the privileges of playing at tourist is the brevet-rank of ‘Lord.’ Hazur is not to be compared with it.

There are many, and some very curious, methods of seeing India. One of these is buying English translations of the more Zolaistic of Zola’s novels and reading them from breakfast to dinnertime in the verandah. Yet another, even simpler, is American in its conception. Take a Newman’s Bradshaw and a blue pencil, and race up and down the length of the Empire, ticking off the names of the stations ‘done.’ To do this thoroughly, keep strictly to the railway buildings and form your conclusions through the carriage-windows. These eyes have seen both ways of working in full blast; and, on the whole, the first is the most commendable.

Let us consider now with due reverence the modern side of Jeypore. It is difficult to write of a nickel-plated civilisation set down under the immemorial Aravalis in the first state of Rajputana. The red-grey hills seem to laugh at it, and the ever-shifting sand-dunes under the hills take no account of it, for they advance upon the bases of the monogrammed, coronet-crowned lamp-posts, and fill up the points of the natty tramways near the Waterworks, which are the outposts of the civilisation of Jeypore.

Escape from the city by the Railway Station till you meet the cactus and the mud-bank and the Maharaja’s Cotton-Press. Pass between a tramway and a trough for wayfaring camels till your foot sinks ankle-deep in soft sand, and you come upon what seems to be the fringe of illimitable desert—mound upon mound of tussocks overgrown with plumed grass where the parrots sit and swing. Here, if you have kept to the road, you shall find a dam faced with stone, a great tank, and pumping machinery fine as the heart of a municipal engineer can desire—pure water, sound pipes, and well-kept engines. If you belong to what is sarcastically styled an ‘able and intelligent municipality’ under the British Rule, go down to the level of the tank, scoop up the water in your hands and drink, thinking meanwhile of the defects of the town whence you came. The experience will be a profitable one. There are statistics in connection with the Waterworks, figures relating to ‘three-throw-plungers,’ delivery and supply, which should be known to the professional reader. They would not interest the unprofessional, who would learn his lesson among the thronged standpipes of the city.

While the Englishman was preparing in his mind a scathing rebuke for an erring municipality that he knew of, a camel swung across the sands, its driver’s jaw and brow bound mummy-fashion to guard against the dust. The man was evidently a stranger to the place, for he pulled up and asked the Englishman where the drinking-troughs were. He was a gentleman and bore very patiently with the Englishman’s absurd ignorance of his dialect. He had come from some village, with an unpronounceable name, thirty kos away, to see his brother’s son, who was sick in the big Hospital. While the camel was drinking the man talked, lying back along his mount. He knew nothing of Jeypore, except the names of certain Englishmen in it, the men who, he said, had made the Waterworks and built the Hospital for his brother’s son’s comfort.

And this is the curious feature of Jeypore; though happily the city is not unique in its peculiarity. When the late Maharaja ascended the throne, more than fifty years ago, it was his royal will and pleasure that Jeypore should advance. Whether he was prompted by love for his subjects, desire for praise, or the magnificent vanity with which Jey Singh must have been so largely dowered, are questions that concern nobody. In the latter years of his reign, he was supplied with Englishmen who made the State their fatherland, and identified themselves with its progress as only Englishmen can. Behind them stood the Maharaja ready to spend money with a lavishness that no Supreme Government would dream of; and it would not be too much to say that the two made the State what it is. When Ram Singh died, Madho Singh his successor, a conservative Hindu, forbore to interfere in any way with the work that was going forward. It is said in the city that he does not overburden himself with the cares of State, the driving power being mainly in the hands of a Bengali, who has everything but the name of Minister. Nor do the Englishmen, it is said in the city, mix themselves with the business of government; their business being wholly executive.

They can, according to the voice of the city, do what they please, and the voice of the city—not in the main roads, but in the little side-alleys where the stall-less bull blocks the path—attests how well their pleasure has suited the pleasure of the people. In truth, to men of action few things could be more delightful than having a State of fifteen thousand square miles placed at their disposal, as it were, to leave their mark on. Unfortunately for the vagrant traveller, those who work hard for practical ends prefer not to talk about their doings, and he must, therefore, pick up what information he can at second-hand or in the city. The men at the standpipes explain that the Maharaja Sahib’s father gave the order for the Waterworks and that Yakub (Jacob) Sahib made them—not only in the city, but out away in the district. ‘Did the people grow more crops thereby?’ ‘Of course they did. Were canals made only to wash in?’ ‘How much more crops?’ ‘Who knows? The Sahib had better go and ask some official.’ Increased irrigation means increase of revenue for the State somewhere, but the man who brought about the increase does not say so.

After a few days of amateur Globe-trotting, a shamelessness great as that of the other loafer—the red-nosed man who hangs about compounds and is always on the eve of starting for Calcutta—possesses the masquerader; so that he feels equal to asking a Resident for a parcel-gilt howdah, or dropping into dinner with a Lieutenant-Governor. No man has a right to keep anything back from a Globe-trotter, who is a mild, temperate, gentlemanly, and unobtrusive seeker after truth. Therefore he who, without a word of enlightenment, sends the visitor into a city which he himself has beautified and adorned and made clean and wholesome, deserves unsparing exposure. And the city may be trusted to betray him. The malli in the Ram Newas Gardens—Gardens which are finer than any in India and fit to rank with the best in Paris—says that the Maharaja gave the order and Yakub Sahib made the Gardens. He also says that the Hospital just outside the Gardens was built by Yakub Sahib, and if the Sahib will go to the centre of the Gardens, he will find another big building, a Museum by the same hand.

But the Englishman went first to the Hospital, and found the out-patients beginning to arrive. A Hospital cannot tell lies about its own progress as a municipality can. Sick folk either come or lie in their own villages. In the case of the Mayo Hospital, they came, and the operation book showed that they had been in the habit of coming. Doctors at issue with provincial and local administrations, Civil Surgeons who cannot get their indents complied with, ground-down and mutinous practitioners all India over, would do well to visit the Mayo Hospital, Jeypore. They might, in the exceeding bitterness of their envy, be able to point out some defects in its supplies, or its beds, or its splints, or in the absolute isolation of the women’s quarters from the men’s.

From the Hospital the Englishman went to the Museum in the centre of the Gardens, and was eaten up by it, for Museums appealed to him. The casing of the jewel was in the first place superb—a wonder of careen white stone of the Indo-Saracenic style. It stood on a stone plinth, and was rich in stone-tracery, green marble columns from Ajmir, red marble, white marble colonnades, courts with fountains, richly carved wooden doors, frescoes, inlay, and colour. The ornamentation of the tombs of Delhi, the palaces of Agra, and the walls of Amber have been laid under contribution to supply the designs in bracket, arch, and soffit; and stone-masons from the Jeypore School of Art have woven into the work the best that their hands could produce. The building in essence if not in the fact of to-day is the work of Freemasons. The men were allowed a certain scope in their choice of detail, and the result . . . but it should be seen to be understood, as it stands in those Imperial Gardens. And, observe, the man who had designed it, who had superintended its erection, had said no word to indicate that there was such a thing in the place, or that every foot of it, from the domes of the roof to the cool green chunam dadoes and the carving of the rims of the fountains in the courtyard, was worth studying! Round the arches of the great centre court are written in Sanskrit and Hindi texts from the great Hindu writers of old, bearing on the beauty of wisdom and the sanctity of true knowledge.

In the central corridor are six great frescoes, each about nine feet by five, copies of illustrations in the Royal Folio of the Razmnameh, the Mahabharata, which Akbar caused to be done by the best artists of his day. The original is in the Museum, and he who can steal it will find a purchaser at any price up to fifty thousand pounds.