The Smith Administration IX

The Vengeance of Lal Beg

(notes by David Page)

First Publication

3rd November 1887 in the Civil and Military Gazette.

The story

This story discusses the fine distinctions made by themselves between the various low castes and ‘untouchables’ (now the ‘dalit’) of India, and tells how a woman from the nomadic sansi tribe tries to better her lot in life by concealing her origins, but is eventually found out.

The principal source for the information on castes is The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India—Volume I – IV) by Robert Vane Russell,1873-1915. Page numbers quoted in parentheses in blue after an explanation refer to this source.

Notes on the Text

[Page 378, Title] Lal Beg is the patron saint of the sweepers.

[Page 378, line 9] mehter or mehtar a sweeper or scavenger. The word, originally used ironically, comes from the Persian for ‘prince’ or ‘great one’ A sweeper not only sweeps the floors but cleans the latrines.

The ORG notes that: ‘According to custom in India the highest and most importantly sounding name is given to the lowliest social level.’

[Page 378, line 10] caste The Hindu peoples of India are divided into castes, separate groups within society. The caste system, and the meaning of caste to a Hindu is highly complex, and hard for a non-Hindu to understand. Suffice it to say, for the readers of this tale, that Hindus traditionally marry within their caste, make their religious observances within it, eat and drink within it, and often work in an occupation restricted to it. Contact with a member of a lower caste may mean pollution, which has a religious and social, as well as physical, significance. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to cross caste barriers, as Jamuna finds in this story.

[Page 378, line 14] arain a cultivator of vegetables, and looked down on by the agricultural castes in consequence, possibly because night-soil is used as a fertiliser for vegetables. [part II, p.160]

[Page 378, line 14] chamar or chumar tanners of leather, or shoe-makers. Because the cow is a sacred creature to Hindus, work involving contact with their dead bodies is seen as unclean, as are the chamars.

[Page 378, line 17] od a subdivision of the uriya or masons caste. [part II, p.322]

[Page 378, line 17] Bhagirat the god of the od.

[Page 378, line 18] kaparia-bawaria The basdewa or kaparia are a wandering beggar caste of mixed origin, who also call themselves Sanâdhya or Sanaurhia Brâhmans. Russell describes the bawaria as part of the Badhak dacoits (bandits). [part II, p. 322]

[Page 378, line 19] Brahmins members of the highest Hindu caste, of priests and teachers. See “The Miracle of Purun Baghat” in The Second Jungle Book:

He was a Brahmin, so high-caste that caste ceased to have any particular meaning for him … At last he went to England on a visit, and had to pay enormous sums to the priests when he came back; for even so high-caste a Brahmin as Purun Dass lost caste by crossing the black sea.

[Page 378, line 19] Teji mehter Clearly a sweeper, but whether “Teji” refers to a tribe, a geographical location or whatever has not been determined.

[Page 378, line 20] Sundoo mehter Clearly a sweeper, but whether “Sundoo” refers to a tribe, a geographical location or whatever has not been determined

[Page 378, line 26] Malka-sansi or malha-sansi as opposed to the kalkar-sansi. Each group may marry a member of the other group, but not someone from their own group. [part II, p. 489]

See also below (page 379 line 4) for sansi.

[Page 378, line 27] ‘married under the basket’ ‘In the Punjab their [the sansi] marriage ceremony is peculiar, the bride being covered by a basket, on which the bridegroom sits while the nuptial rites are being performed.’ [part II, p. 489]

[Page 378, line 28] Malang Shah a sansi god or saint.

[Page 378, line 30] Ravee better known as the Ravi river. Lahore stands on its eastern bank.

[Page 379, line 4] sansi a small caste of wandering delinquent gypsies of northern India. Kim encounters them when he and the Lama venture onto the Grand Trunk Road:

They met a troop of long-haired, strong-scented Sansis with baskets of lizards and other unclean food on their backs, their lean dogs sniffing at their heels. These people kept their own side of the road, moving at a quick, furtive jog-trot, and all other castes gave them ample room; for the Sansi is deep pollution.
[Kim ch. 4, page 86 line 19.]

In the ORG they are described as: ‘a tribe of gypsies who kept and also ate dogs.’

[Page 379, line 8] mehtranee ranee means ‘Queen’ or ‘Princess’ in Sanskrit, so this name for the wife of a mehta, means – ironically – ‘great princess’. See the note above on mehter (page 378, line 9). She was a sweeper doing the work of a nurse.

[Page 379, line 8] ayah nursemaid or lady’s maid.

[Page 379, line 14] Boorat mehtranee Clearly a female sweeper, but whether “Boorat” refers to a tribe, a geographical location or whatever has not been determined.

[Page 379, line 26] mullah a Muslim priest.

[Page 380, line 3] Seven rupees less than ten shillings or 50 new pence. There were 15 rupees to the £ sterling.

[Page 380, line 17] the Mall a street in Lahore

[Page 380, line 19] the month of Har this month in the Sikh calendar runs, in Gregorian, from 15 June to 15 July inclusive.

[Page 380, line 24] Forest Reserve A section of Government Forest with shooting rights controlled in order to preserve selected game animals and birds and encourage breeding.

[Page 380, line 24] Bridge-of-Boats A bridge across the Ravi River (right) built in 1849. See Jan Morris and Simon Winchester’s Stones of the Raj (page 204) for a plan of Lahore showing the Fort and cantonments.

[Page 380, line 27] burning ghât broad steps leading down to one of the Hindu sacred rivers, and where Hindus are cremated.

[Page 380, line 30] Meean Meer (or Mian Mir), which was the old name for Lahore Cantonment, about three miles to the east. [ORG]

[Page 381, line 12] The horses, etc. the three lines of verse are probably Kipling’s own. [ORG]

©David Page 2008 All rights reserved