‘Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink while thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field — that, of course, they are many in number or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.’
—Burke: ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France.’
THEY were sitting in the veranda of ‘the splendid palace of an Indian Pro-Consul’; surrounded by all the glory and mystery of the immemorial East. In plain English it was a one-storied, ten-roomed, whitewashed, mud-roofed bungalow, set in a dry garden of dusty tamarisk trees and divided from the road by a low mud wall. The green parrots screamed overhead as they flew in battalions to the river for their morning drink. Beyond the wall, clouds of fine dust showed where the cattle and goats of the city were passing afield to graze. The remorseless white light of the winter sunshine of Northern India lay upon everything and improved nothing, from the whining Persian-wheel by the lawn-tennis court to the long perspective of level road and the blue, domed tombs of Mohammedan saints just visible above the trees.
‘A Happy New Year,’ said Orde to his guest. ‘It’s the first you’ve ever spent out of England, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. “Happy New Year,”‘ said Pagett, smiling at the sunshine. ‘What a divine climate you have here! Just think of the brown cold fog hanging over London now!’ And he rubbed his hands.
It was more than twenty years since he had last seen Orde, his schoolmate, and their paths in the world had divided early. The one had quitted college to become a cog-wheel in the machinery of the great Indian Government; the other more blessed with goods, had been whirled into a similar position in the English scheme. Three successive elections had not affected Pagett’s position with a loyal constituency, and he had grown insensibly to regard himself in some sort as a pillar of the Empire, whose real worth would be known later on. After a few years of conscientious attendance at many divisions, after newspaper battles innumerable and the publication of interminable correspondence, and more hasty oratory than in his calmer moments he cared to think upon, it occurred to him, as it had occurred to many of his fellows in Parliament, that a tour to India would enable him to sweep a larger lyre and address himself to the problems of Imperial administration with a firmer hand. Accepting, therefore, a general invitation extended to him by Orde some years before, Pagett had taken ship to Karachi, and only over-night had been received with joy by the Deputy-Commissioner of Amara. They had sat late, discussing the changes and chances of twenty years, recalling the names of the dead, and weighing the futures of the living, as is the custom of men meeting after intervals of action.
Next morning they smoked the after breakfast pipe in the veranda, still regarding each other curiously, Pagett, in a light grey frock-coat and garments much too thin for the time of the year, and a puggried sun-hat carefully and wonderfully made. Orde in a shooting coat, riding breeches, brown cowhide boots with spurs, and a battered flax helmet. He had ridden some miles in the early morning to inspect a doubtful river dam. The men’s faces differed as much as their attire. Orde’s worn and wrinkled around the eyes, and grizzled at the temples, was the harder and more square of the two, and it was with something like envy that the owner looked at the comfortable outlines of Pagett’s blandly receptive countenance, the clear skin, the untroubled eye, and the mobile, clean-shaved lips.
‘And this is India!’ said Pagett for the twentieth time staring long and intently at the grey feathering of the tamarisks.
‘One portion of India only. It’s very much like this for 300 miles in every direction. By the way, now that you have rested a little — I wouldn’t ask the old question before — what d’you think of the country?’
‘Tis the most pervasive country that ever yet was seen. I acquired several pounds of your country coming up from Karachi. The air is heavy with it, and for miles and miles along that distressful eternity of rail there’s no horizon to show where air and earth separate.’
‘Yes. It isn’t easy to see truly or far in India. But you had a decent passage out, hadn’t you?’
‘Very good on the whole. Your Anglo-Indian may be unsympathetic about one’s political views; but he has reduced ship life to a science.’
‘The Anglo-Indian is a political orphan, and if he’s wise he won’t be in a hurry to be adopted by your party grandmothers. But how were your companions, unsympathetic?’
‘Well, there was a man called Dawlishe, a judge somewhere in this country it seems, and a capital partner at whist by the way, and when I wanted to talk to him about the progress of India in a political sense (Orde hid a grin, which might or might not have been sympathetic), the National Congress movement, and other things in which, as a Member of Parliament, I’m of course interested, he shifted the subject, and when I once cornered him, he looked me calmly in the eye, and said: “That’s all Tommy rot. Come and have a game at Bull. You may laugh; but that isn’t the way to treat a great and important question; and, knowing who I was, well. I thought it rather rude, don’t you know; and yet Dawlishe is a thoroughly good fellow.’
‘Yes; he’s a friend of mine, and one of the straightest men I know. I suppose, like many Anglo-Indians, he felt it was hopeless to give you any just idea of any Indian question without the documents before you, and in this case the documents you want are the country and the people.’
‘Precisely. That was why I came straight to you, bringing an open mind to bear on things. I’m anxious to know what popular feeling in India is really like y’know, now that it has wakened into political life. The National Congress, in spite of Dawlishe, must have caused great excitement among the masses?’
‘On the contrary, nothing could be more tranquil than the state of popular feeling; and as to excitement, the people would as soon be excited over the “Rule of Three” as over the Congress.’
‘Excuse me, Orde, but do you think you are a fair judge? Isn’t the official Anglo-Indian naturally jealous of any external influences that might move the masses, and so much opposed to liberal ideas, truly liberal ideas, that he can scarcely be expected to regard a popular movement with fairness?’
‘What did Dawlishe say about Tommy Rot? Think a moment, old man. You and I were brought up together; taught by the same tutors, read the same books, lived the same life, and thought, as you remember, in parallel lines. I come out here, learn new languages, and work among new races; while you, more fortunate, remain at home. Why should I change my mind our mind — because I change my sky? Why should I and the few hundred Englishmen in my service become unreasonable, prejudiced fossils, while you and your newer friends alone remain bright and open-minded? You surely don’t fancy civilians are members of a Primrose League?’
‘Of course not, but the mere position of an English official gives him a point of view which cannot but bias his mind on this question.’ Pagett moved his knee up and down a little uneasily as he spoke.
‘That sounds plausible enough, but, like more plausible notions on Indian matters, I believe it’s a mistake. You’ll find when you come to consult the unofficial Briton that our fault, as a class — I speak of the civilian now — is rather to magnify the progress that has been made toward liberal institutions. It is of English origin, such as it is, and the stress of our work since the Mutiny — only thirty years ago — has been in that direction. No, I think you will get no fairer or more dispassionate view of the Congress business than such men as I can give you. But I may as well say at once that those who know most of India, from the inside, are inclined to wonder at the noise our scarcely begun experiment makes in England.’
‘But surely the gathering together of Congress delegates is of itself a new thing.’
‘There’s nothing new under the sun. When Europe was a jungle half Asia flocked to the canonical conferences of Buddhism; and for centuries the people have gathered at Pun, Hurdwar, Trimbak, and Benares in immense numbers. A great meeting, what you call a mass meeting, is really one of the oldest and most popular of Indian institutions In the case of the Congress meetings, the only notable fact is that the priests of the altar are British, not Buddhist, Jain or Brahmanical, and that the whole thing is a British contrivance kept alive by the efforts of Messrs. Hume, Eardley, Norton, and Digby.’
‘You mean to say, then, it’s not a spontaneous movement?’
‘What movement was ever spontaneous in any true sense of the word? This seems to be more factitious than usual. You seem to know a great deal about it; try it by the touchstone of subscriptions, a coarse but fairly trustworthy criterion, and there is scarcely the colour of money in it. The delegates write from England that they are out of pocket for working expenses, railway fares, and stationery — the mere pasteboard and scaffolding of their show. It is, in fact, collapsing from mere financial inanition.’
‘But you cannot deny that the people of India, who are, perhaps, too poor to subscribe, are mentally and morally moved by the agitation,’ Pagett insisted.
‘That is precisely what I do deny. The native side of the movement is the work of a limited class, a microscopic minority, as Lord Dufferin described it, when compared with the people proper, but still a very interesting class, seeing that it is of our own creation. It is composed almost entirely of those of the literary or clerkly castes who have received an English education.’
‘Surely that s a very important class. Its members must be the ordained leaders of popular thought.’
‘Anywhere else they might he leaders, but they have no social weight in this topsy-turvy land, and though they have been employed in clerical work for generations they have no practical knowledge of affairs. A ship’s clerk is a useful person, but he it scarcely the captain; and an orderly-room writer, however smart he may be, is not the colonel. You see, the writer class in India has never till now aspired to anything like command. It wasn’t allowed to. The Indian gentleman, for thousands of years past, has resembled Victor Hugo’s noble:
Un vrai sire
Sa main digne
Quand il signe
And the little êgratignures he most likes to make have been scored pretty deeply by the sword.’
‘But this is childish and medieval nonsense!’
‘Precisely; and from your, or rather our, point of view the pen is mightier than the sword. In this country it’s otherwise. The fault lies in our Indian balances, not yet adjusted to civilized weights and measures.’
‘Well, at all events, this literary class represent the natural aspirations and wishes of the people at large, though it may not exactly lead them, and, in spite of all you say, Orde, I defy you to find a really sound English Radical who would not sympathize with those aspirations.’
Pagett spoke with some warmth, and he had scarcely ceased when a well appointed dog-cart turned into the compound gates, and Orde rose saying:
‘Here is Edwards, the Master of the Lodge I neglect so diligently, come to talk about accounts, I suppose.’
As the vehicle drove up under the porch Pagett also rose, saying with the trained effusion born of much practice:
‘But this is also my friend, my old and valued friend Edwards. I’m delighted to see you. I knew you were in India, but not exactly where.’
‘Then it isn’t accounts, Mr. Edwards,’ said Orde, cheerily.
‘Why, no, sir; I heard Mr. Pagett was coming, and as our works were closed for the New Year I thought I would drive over and see him.’
‘A very happy thought. Mr. Edwards, you may not know, Orde, was a leading member of our Radical Club at Surbiton when I was beginning political life, and I owe much to his exertions. There’s no pleasure like meeting an old friend, except, perhaps, making a new one. I suppose, Mr. Edwards, you stick to the good old cause?’
‘Well, you see, sir, things are different out here. There’s precious little one can find to say against the Government, which was the main of our talk at home, and them that do say things are not the sort o’ people a man who respects himself would like to be mixed up with. There are no politics, in a manner of speaking, in India. It’s all work.’
‘Surely you are mistaken, my good friend. Why I have come all the way from England just to see the working of this great National movement.’
‘I don’t know where you’re going to find the nation as moves to begin with, and then you’ll be hard put to it to find what they are moving about. It’s like this, sir,’ said Edwards, who had not quite relished being called ‘my good friend.’ ‘They haven’t got any grievance — nothing to hit with, don’t you see, sir; and then there’s not much to hit against, because the Government is more like a kind of general Providence, directing an old-established state of things, than that at home, where there’s something new thrown down for us to fight about every three months.’
‘You are probably, in your workshops, full of English mechanics, out of the way of learning what the masses think.’
‘I don’t know so much about that. There are four of us English foremen, and between seven and eight hundred native fitters, smiths, carpenters, painters, and such like.’
‘And they are full of the Congress, of course?’
‘Never hear a word of it from year’s end to year’s end, and I speak the talk too. But I wanted to ask how things are going on at home — old Tyler and Brown and the rest?’
‘We will speak of them presently, but your account of the indifference of your men surprises me almost as much as your own. I fear you are a backslider from the good old doctrine, Edwards.’ Pagett spoke as one who mourned the death of a near relative.
‘Not a bit, Sir, but I should be if I took up with a parcel of baboos, pleaders, and schoolboys, as never did a day’s work in their lives, and couldn’t if they tried. And if you was to poll us English railway men, mechanics, tradespeople, and the like of that all up and down the country from Peshawur to Calcutta, you would find us mostly in a tale together. And yet you know we’re the same English you pay some respect to at home at ‘lection time, and we have the pull o’ knowing something about it.’
‘This is very curious, but you will let me come and see you, and perhaps you will kindly show me the railway works, and we will talk things over at leisure. And about all old friends and old times,’ added Pagett, detecting with quick insight a look of disappointment in the mechanic’s face.
Nodding briefly to Orde, Edwards mounted his dog-cart and drove off.
‘It’s very disappointing,’ said the Member to Orde, who, while his friend discoursed with Edwards, had been looking over a bundle of sketches drawn on grey paper in purple ink, brought to him by a Chuprassee.
‘Don’t let it trouble you, old chap,’ said Orde, sympathetically. ‘Look here a moment, here are some sketches by the man who made the carved wood screen you admired so much in the dining-room, and wanted a copy of, and the artist himself is here too.’
‘A native?’ said Pagett.
‘Of course,’ was the reply, ‘Bishen Singh is his name, and he has two brothers to help him. When there is an important job to do, the three go ‘ato partnership, but they spend most of their time and all their money in litigation over an inheritance, and I’m afraid they are getting involved, Thoroughbred Sikhs of the old rock, obstinate, touchy, bigoted, and cunning, but good men for all that. Here is Bishen Singn — shall we ask him about the Congress?’
But Bishen Singh, who approached with a respectful salaam, had never heard of it, and he listened with a puzzled face and obviously feigned interest to Orde’s account of its aims and objects, finally shaking his vast white turban with great significance when he learned that it was promoted by certam pleaders named by Orde, and by educated natives. He began with laboured respect to explain how he was a poor man with no concern in such matters, which were all under the control of God, but presently broke out of Urdu into familiar Punjabi, the mere sound of which had a rustic smack of village smoke-reek and plough-tail, as he denounced the wearers of white coats, the jugglers with words who filched his field from him, the men whose backs were never bowed in honest work; and poured ironical scorn on the Bengali. He and one of his brothers had seen Calcutta, and being at work there had Bengali carpenters given to them as assistants.
‘Those carpenters!’ said Bishen Singh. ‘Black apes were more efficient workmates, and as for the Bengali babu-tchick!’ The guttural click needed no interpretation, but Orde translated the rest, while Pagett gazed with interest at the wood-carver.
‘He seems to have a most illiberal prejudice against the Bengali,’ said the M.P.
‘Yes, it’s very sad that for ages outside Bengal there should he so bitter a prejudice. Pride of race, which also means race-hatred, is the plague and curse of India and it spreads far,’ pointed with his riding-whip to the large map of India on the veranda wall.
‘See! I begin with the North,’ said he. ‘There’s the Afghan, and, as a highlander, he despises all the dwellers in Hindoostan — with the exception of the Sikh, whom he hates as cordially as the Sikh hates him. The Hindu loathes Sikh and Afghan, and the Rajput — that’s a little lower down across this yellow blot of desert — has a strong objection, to put it mildly, to the Maratha who, by the way, poisonously hates the Afghan. Let’s go North a minute. The Sindhi hates everybody I’ve mentioned. Very good, we’ll take less warlike races. The cultivator of Northern India domineers over the man in the next province, and the Behari of the Northwest ridicules the Bengali. They are all at one on that point. I’m giving you merely the roughest possible outlines of the facts, of course.’
Bishen Singh, his clean cut nostrils still quivering, watched the large sweep of the whip as it traveled from the frontier, through Sindh, the Punjab and Rajputana, till it rested by the valley of the Jumna
‘Hate — eternal and inextinguishable hate,’ concluded Orde, flicking the lash of the whip across the large map from East to West as he sat down. ‘Remember Canning’s advice to Lord Granville, “Never write or speak of Indian things without looking at a map.”‘
Pagett opened his eyes, Orde resumed. ‘And the race-hatred is only a part of it. What’s really the matter with Bisben Singh is class-hatred, which, unfortunately, is even more intense and more widely spread. That’s one of the little drawbacks of caste, which some of your recent English writers find an impeccable system.’
The wood-carver was glad to be recalled to the business of his craft, and his eyes shone as he received instructions for a carved wooden doorway for Pagett, which he promised should be splendidly executed and despatched to England in six months. It is an irrelevant detail, but in spite of Orde’s reminders, fourteen months elapsed before the work was finished. Business over, Bishen Singh hung about, reluctant to take his leave, and at last joining his hands and approaching Orde with bated breath and whispering humbleness, said he had a petition to make. Orde’s face suddenly lost all trace of expression. ‘Speak on, Bishen Singh,’ said he, and the carver in a whining tone explained that his case against his brothers was fixed for hearing before a native judge and — here he dropped his voice still lower tid he was summarily stopped by Orde, who sternly pointed to the gate with an emphatic Begone!
Bishen Singh, showing but little sign of discomposure, salaamed respectfully to the friends and departed.
Pagett looked inquiry; Orde with complete recovery of his usual urbanity, replied: ‘It’s nothing, only the old story, he wants his case to be tried by an English judge — they all do that — but when he began to hint that the other side were in improper relations with the native judge I had to shut him up. Gunga Ram, the man he wanted to make insinuations about, may not be very bright; but he’s as honest as day-light on the bench. But that’s just what one can’t get a native to believe.’
‘Do you really mean to say these people prefer to have their cases tried by English judges?’
Pagett drew a long breath. ‘I didn’t know that before.’ At this point a phaeton entered the compound, and Orde rose with ‘Confound it, there’s old Rasul Ali Khan come to pay one of his tiresome duty calls. I’m afraid we shall never get through our little Congress discussion.’
Pagett was an aimost silent spectator of the grave formalities of a visit paid by a punctilious old Mahommedan gentleman to an Indian official; and was much impressed by the distinction of manner and fine appearance of the Mohammedan landholder. When the exchange of polite banalities came to a pause, he expressed a wish to learn the courtly visitor’s opinion of the National Congress.
Orde reluctantly interpreted, and with a smile which even Mohammedan politeness could not save from bitter scorn, Rasul Ah Khan intimated that he knew nothing about it and cared still less. It was a kind of talk encouraged by the Government for some mysterious purpose of its own, and for his own part he wondered and held his peace.
Pagett was far from satisfied with this, and wished to have the old gentleman’s opinion on the propriety of managing all Indian affairs on the basis of an elective system.
Orde did his best to explain, but it was plain the visitor was bored and bewildered. Frankly, he didn’t think much of committees; they had a Municipal Committee at Lahore and had elected a menial servant, an orderly, as a member. He had been informed of this on good authority, and after that, committees had ceased to interest him. But all was according to the rule of Government, and, please God, it was all for the best.
‘What an old fossil it is!’ cried Pagett, as Orde returned from seeing his guest to the door; ‘just like some old blue-blooded hidalgo of Spain. What does he really think of the Congress after all, and of the elective system?’
‘Hates it all like poison. When you are sure of a majority, election is a fine system; but you can scarcely expect the Mahommedans, the most masterful and powerful minority in the country, to contemplate their own extinction with joy. The worst of it is that he and his co-religionists, who are many, and the landed proprietors, also, of Hindu race, are frightened and put out by this election business and by the importance we have bestowed on lawyers, pleaders, writers, and the like, who have, up to now, been in abject submission to them. They say little, but after all they are the most important fagots in the great bundle of communities, and all the glib bunkum in the world would not pay for their estrangement. They have controlled the land.’
‘But I am assured that experience of local self-government in your municipalities has been most satisfactory, and when once the principle is accepted in your centres, don’t you know, it is bound to spread, and these important — ah’m people of yours would learn it like the rest. I see no difficulty at all,’ and the smooth lips closed with the complacent snap habitual to Pagett, M.P., the ‘man of cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrows.’
Orde looked at him with a dreary smile.
‘The privilege of election has been most reluctantly withdrawn from scores of municipalities, others have had to be summarily suppressed, and, outside the Presidency towns, the actual work done has been badly performed. This is of less moment, perhaps—it only sends up the local death-rates — than the fact that the public interest in municipal elections, never very strong, has waned, and is waning, in spite of careful nursing on the part of Government servants.’
‘Can you explain this lack of interest?’ said Pagett, putting aside the rest of Orde’s remarks.
‘You may find a ward of the key in the fact that only one in every thousand af our population can spell. Then they are infinitely more interested in religion and caste questions than in any sort of politics. When the business of mere existence is over, their minds are occupied by a series of interests, pleasures, rituals, superstitions, and the like, based on centuries of tradition and usage. You, perhaps, find it hard to conceive of people absolutely devoid of curiosity, to whom the book, the daily paper, and the printed speech are unknown, and you would describe their life as blank. That’s a profound mistake. You are in another land, another century, down on the bed-rock of society, where the family merely, and not the community, is all-important. The average Oriental cannot be brought to look beyond his clan. His life, too, is more complete and self-sufficing, and less sordid and low-thoughted than you might imagine. It is bovine and slow in some respects, but it is never empty. You and I are inclined to put the cart before the horse, and to forget that it is the man that is elemental, not the book.
‘The corn and the cattle are all my care, And the rest is the will of God.’
‘Why should such folk look up from their immemorially appointed round of duty and interests to meddle with the unknown and fuss with voting-papers. How would you, atop of all your interests care to conduct even one-tenth of your life according to the manners and customs of the Papuans, let’s say? That’s what it comes to.’
‘But if they won’t take the trouble to vote, why do you anticipate that Mohammedans, proprietors, and the rest would be crushed by majorities of them?’
Again Pagett disregarded the closing sentence.
‘Because, though the landholders would not move a finger on any purely political question, they could be raised in dangerous excitement by religious hatreds. Already the first note of this has been sounded by the people who are trying to get up an agitation on the cow-killing question, and every year there is trouble over the Mohammedan Muharrum processions.
‘But who looks after the popular rights, being thus unrepresented?’
‘The Government of Her Majesty the Queen, Empress of India, in which, if the Congress promoters are to be believed, the people have an implicit trust; for the Congress circular, specially prepared for rustic comprehension, says the movement is ‘for the remission of tax, the advancement of Hindustan, and the strengthening of the British Govemment.’ This paper is headed in large letters –
‘MAY THE PROSPERITY OF THE EMPIRE OF INDIA ENDURE.’
‘Really!’ said Pagett, ‘that shows some cleverness. But there are things better worth imitation in our English methods of—er—political statement than this sort of amiable fraud.’
‘Anyhow,’ resumed Orde, ‘you perceive that not a word is said about elections and the elective principle, and the reticence of the Congress promoters here shows they are wise in their generation.’
‘But the elective principle must triumph in the end, and the little difficulties you seem to anticipate would give way on the introduction of a well-balanced scheme, capable of indefinite extension.’
‘But is it possible to devise a scheme which, always assuming that the people took any interest in it, without enormous expense, ruinous dislocation of the administration and danger to the public peace, can satisfy the aspirations of Mr. Hume and his following, and yet safeguard the interests of the Mahommedans, the landed and wealthy classes, the Conservative Hindus, the Eurasians, Parsees, Sikhs, Rajputs, native Christians, domiciled Europeans and others, who are each important and powerful in their way?’
Pagett’s attention, however, was diverted to the gate, where a group of cultivators stood in apparent hesitation.
‘Here are the twelve Apostles, by Jove — come straight out of Raffaele’s cartoons,’ said the M.P., with the fresh appreciation of a newcomer.
Orde, loth to be interrupted, turned impatiently toward the villagers, and their leader, handing his long staff to one of his companions, advanced to the house.
‘It is old Jelbo, the Lumherdar, or head-man of Pind Sharkot, and a very intelligent man for a villager.’
The Jat farmer had removed his shoes and stood smiling on the edge of the veranda. His strongly marked features glowed with russet bronze, and his bright eyes gleamed under deeply set brows, contracted by lifelong exposure to sunshine. His beard and moustache streaked with grey swept from bold cliffs of brow and cheek in the large sweeps one sees drawn by Michael Angelo, and strands of long black hair mingled with the irregularly piled wreaths and folds of his turban. The drapery of stout blue cotton cloth thrown over his broad shoulders and girt round his narrow loins, hung from his tall form in broadly sculptured folds, and he would have made a superb model for an artist in search of a patriarch.
Orde greeted him cordially, and after a polite pause the countryman started off with a long story told with impressive earnestness. Orde listened and smiled, interrupting the speaker at times to argue and reason with him in a tone which Pagett could hear was kindly, and finally checking the flux of words was about to dismiss him, when Pagett suggested that he should be asked about the National Congress.
But Jelbo had never heard of it. He was a poor man and such things, by the favour of his honour, did not concern him.
‘What’s the matter with your big friend that he was so terribly in earnest?’ asked Pagett, when he had left.
‘Nothing much. He wants the blood of the people in the next village, who have had smallpox and cattle plague pretty badly, and by the help of a wizard, a currier, and several pigs have passed it on to his own village. ‘Wants to know if they can’t be run in for this awful crime. It seems they made a dreadful charivari at the village boundary, threw a quantity of spell-bearing objects over the border, a buffalo’s skull and other things; then branded a chamur — what you would call a currier — on his hinder parts and drove him and a number of pigs over into Jelbo’s village. Jelbo says he can bring evidence to prove that the wizard directing these proceedings, who is a Sansi, has been guilty of theft, arson, cattle-killing, perjury and murder, but would prefer to have him punished for bewitching them and inflicting small-pox.’
‘And how on earth did you answer such a lunatic?’
‘Lunatic! the old fellow is as sane as you or I; and he has some ground of complaint against those Sansis. I asked if he would like a native superintendent of police with some men to make inquiries, but he objected on the grounds the police were rather worse than smallpox and criminal tribes put together.’
‘Criminal tribes—er—I don’t quite understand,’ said Paget.
‘We have in India many tribes of people who in the slack anti-British days became robbers, in various kind. and prey on the people. They are being restrained and reclaimed little by little, and in time will become useful; citizens, but they still cherish hereditary traditions of crime, and are a difficult lot to deal with. By the way, what about the political rights of these folk under your schemes? The country people call them vermin, but I suppose they would be electors with the rest.’
‘Nonsense – special provision would be made for them in a well-considered electoral scheme, and they would doubtless be treated with fitting severity,’ said Pagett, with a magisterial air.
‘Severity, yes — but whether it would be fitting is doubtful. Even those poor devils have rights, and, after all, they only practice what they have been taught.’
‘But criminals, Orde!’
‘Yes, criminals with codes and rituals of crime, gods and godlings of crime, and a hundred songs and sayings in praise of it. Puzzling, isn’t it?’
‘It’s simply dreadful. They ought to be put down at once. Are there many of them?’
‘Not more than about sixty thousand in this province, for many of the tribes broadly described as criminal are really vagabond and criminal only on occasion, while others are being settled and reclaimed. They are of great antiquity, a legacy from the past, the golden, glorious Aryan past of Max Muller, Birdwood and the rest of your spindrift philosophers.’
An orderly brought a card to Orde who took it with a movement of irritation at the interruption, and banded it to Pagett; a large card with a ruled border in red ink, and in the centre in schoolboy copper plate, Mr. Dina Nath. ‘Give salaam,’ said the civilian, and there entered in haste a slender youth, clad in a closely fitting coat of grey homespun, tight trousers, patent-leather shoes, and a small black velvet cap. His thin cheek twitched, and his eyes wandered restlessly, for the young man was evidently nervous and uncomfortable, though striving to assume a free and easy air.
‘Your honour may perhaps remember me,’ he said in Englisb, and Orde scanned him keenly.
‘I know your face somehow. You belonged to the Shershah district I think, when I was in charge there?’
‘Yes, Sir, my father is writer at Shershah, and your honour gave me a prize when I was first in the Middle School examination five years ago. Since then I have prosecuted my studies, and I am now second year’s student in the Mission College.’
‘Of course: you are Kedar Nath’s son — the boy who said he liked geography better than play or sugar cakes, and I didn’t believe you. How is your father getting on?’
‘He is well, and he sends his salaam, but his circumstances are depressed, and he also is down on his luck.’
‘You learn English idiom, at the Mission College, it seems.’
‘Yes, sir, they are the best idioms, and my father ordered me to ask your honour to say a word for him to the present incumbent of your honour’s shoes, the latchet of which he is not worthy to open, and who knows not Joseph; for things are different at Shershah now, and my father wants promotion.’
‘Your father is a good man, and I will do what I can for him.’
At this point a telegram was handed to Orde, who, after glancing at it, said he must leave his young friend whom he introduced to Pagett, ‘a member of the English House of Commons who wishes to learn about India.’
Orde bad scarcely retired with his telegram when Pagett began:
‘Perhaps you can tell me something of the National Congress movement?’
‘Sir, it is the greatest movement of modern times, and one in which all educated men like us must join. All our students are for the Congress.’
‘Excepting, I suppose, Mahommedans, and the Christians?’ said Pagett, quick to use his recent instruction.
‘These are some mere exceptions to the universal rule.’
‘But the people outside the College, the working classes, the agriculturists; your father and mother, for instance.’
‘My mother,’ said the young man, with a visible effort to bring himself to pronounce the word, ‘has no ideas, and my father is not agriculturist, nor working class; he is of the Kayeth caste; but he had not the advantage of a collegiate education, and he does not know much of the Congress. It is a movement for the educated young-man’— connecting adjective and noun in a sort of vocal hyphen.
‘Ah, yes,’ said Pagett, feeling he was a little off the rails, ‘and what are the benefits you expect to gain by it?’
‘Oh, sir, everything. England owes its greatness to Parliamentary institutions, and we should at once gain the same high position in scale of nations. Sir, we wish to have the sciences, the arts, the manufactures, the industrial factories, with steam engines, and other motive powers and public meetings, and debates. Already we have a debating club in connection with the college, and elect a Mr. Speaker. Sir, the progress must come. You also are a Member of Parliament and worship the great Lord Ripon,’ said the youth, breathlessly, and his black eyes flashed as he finished his commaless sentences.
‘Well,’ said Pagett, drily, ‘it has not yet occurred to me to worship his Lordship, although I believe he is a very worthy man, and I am not sure that England owes quite all the things you name to the House of Commons. You see, my young friend, the growth of a nation like ours is slow, subject to many influences, and if you have read your history aright’ — ‘Sir. I know it all — all! Norman Conquest, Magna Charta, Runnymede, Reformation, Tudors, Stuarts, Mr. Milton and Mr. Burke, and I have read something of Mr. Herbert Spencer and Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall”, Reynolds’ “Mysteries of the Court”,’ and Pagett felt like one who had pulled the string of a shower-bath unawares, and hastened to stop the torrent with a question as to what particular grievances of the people of India the attention of an elected assembly should be first directed. But young Mr. Dina Nath was slow to particularize. There were many, very many demanding consideration. Mr. Pagett would like to hear of one or two typical examples. The Repeal of the Arms Act was at last named, and the student learned for the first time that a licence was necessary before an Englishman could carry a gun in England. Then natives of India ought to be allowed to become Volunteer Riflemen if they chose, and the absolute equality of the Oriental with his European fellow-subject in civil status should be proclaimed on principle, and the Indian Army should be considerably reduced. The student was not, however, prepared with answers to Mr. Pagett’s mildest questions on these points, and he returned to vague generalities, leaving the M.P. so much impressed with the crudity of his views that he was glad on Orde’s return to say good-bye to his ‘very interesting’ young friend.
‘What do you think of young India?’ asked Orde.
‘Curious, very curious — and callow.’
‘And yet,’ the civilian replied, ‘one can scarcely help sympathizing with him for his mere youth’s sake. The young orators of the Oxford Union arrived at the same conclusions and showed doubtless just the same enthusiasm. If there were any political analogy between India and England, if the thousand races of this Empire were one, if there were any chance even of their learning to speak one language, if, in short, India were a Utopia of the debating-room, and not a real land, this kind of talk might be worth listening to, but it is all based on false analogy and ignorance of the facts.’
‘But he is a native and knows the facts.’
‘He is a sort of English schoolboy, but married three years, and the father of two weaklings, and knows less than most English schoolboys. You saw all he is and knows, and such ideas as he has acquired are directly hostile to the most cherished convictions of the vast majority of the people.’
‘But what does he mean by saying he is a student of a mission college? Is he a Christian?’
‘He meant just what he said, and he is not a Christian, nor ever will he be. Good people in America, Scotland and England, most of whom would never dream of collegiate education for their own sons, are pinching themselves to bestow it in pure waste on Indian youths. Their scheme is an oblique, subterranean attack on heathenism; the theory being that with the jam of secular education, leading to a University degree, the pill of moral or religious instruction may he coaxed down the heathen gullet.’
‘But does it succeed; do they make converts?’
‘They make no converts, for the subtle Oriental swallows the jam and rejects the pill; but the mere example of the sober, righteous, and godly lives of the principals and professors who are most excellent and devoted men, must have a certain moral value. Yet, as Lord Lansdowne pointed out the other day, the market is dangerously overstocked with graduates of our Universities who look for employment in the administration. An immense number are employed, but year by year the college mills grind out increasing lists of youths foredoomed to failure and disappointment, and meanwhile, trade, manufactures and the industrial arts are neglected, and in fact regarded with contempt by our new literary mandarins in posse.’
‘But our young friend said he wanted steam-engines and factories,’ said Pagett.
‘Yes, he would like to direct such concerns. He wants to begin at the top, for manual labor is held to be discreditable, and he would never defile his hands by the apprenticeship which the architects, engineers, and manufacturers of England cheerfully undergo; and he would be aghast to learn that the leading names of industrial enterprise in England belonged a generation or two since, or now belong, to men who wrought with their own hands. And, though he talks glibly of manufacturers, he refuses to see that the Indian manufacturer of the future will be the despised workman of the present. It was proposed, for example, a few weeks ago, that a certain municipality in this province should establish an elementary technical school for the sons of workmen. The stress of the opposition to the plan came from a pleader who owed all he had to a college education bestowed on him gratis by Government and missions. You would have fancied some fine old crusted Tory squire of the last generation was speaking. ‘These people,’ he said, ‘want no education, for they learn their trades from their fathers, and to teach a workman’s son the elements of mathematics and physical science would give him ideas above his business. They must be kept in their place, and it was idle to imagine that there was any science in wood or iron work.’ And he carried his point. But the Indian workman will rise in the social scale in spite of the new literary caste.’
‘In England we have scarcely begun to realize that there is an industrial class in this country, yet, I suppose, the example of men, like Edwards for instance, must tell,’ said Pagett, thoughtfully.
‘That you shouldn’t know much about it is natural enough, for there are but few sources of information. India in this, as in other respects, is like a badly kept ledger—not written up to date. And men like Edwards are, in reality, missionaries, who by precept and example are teaching more lessons than they know. Only a few, however, of their crowds of subordinates seem to care to try to emulate them, and aim at individual advancement; the rest drop into the ancient Indian caste groove.’
‘How do you mean?’ asked he, ‘Well, it is found that the new railway and factory workmen, the fitter, the smith, the engine-driver, and the rest are already forming separate hereditary castes. You may notice this down at Jamalpur in Bengal, one of the oldest railway centres; and at other places, and in other industries, they are following the same inexorable Indian law.’
‘Which means?’ queried Pagett.
‘It means that the rooted habit of the people is to gather in small self-contained, self-sufficing family groups with no thought or care for any interests but their own — a habit which is scarcely compatible with the right acceptation of the elective principle.’
‘Yet you must admit, Orde, that though our young friend was not able to expound the faith that is in him, your Indian army is too big.’
‘Not nearly big enough for its main purpose. And, as a side issue, there are certain powerful minorities of fighting folk whose interests an Asiatic Government is bound to consider. Arms is as much a means of livelihood as civil employ under Government and law. And it would be a heavy strain on British bayonets to hold down Sikhs, Jats, Bilochis, Rohillas, Rajputs, Bhils, Dogras, Pathans, and Gurkhas to abide by the decisions of a numerical majority opposed to their interests. Leave the ‘numerical majority’ to itself without the British bayonets — a flock of sheep might as reasonably hope to manage a troop of collies.’
‘This complaint about excessive growth of the army is akin to another contention of the Congress party. They protest against the malversation of the whole of the moneys raised by additional taxes as a Famine Insurance Fund to other purposes. You must be aware that this special Famine Fund has all been spent on frontier roads and defences and strategic railway schemes as a protection against Russia.’
‘But there was never a special famine fund raised by special taxation and put by as in a box. No sane administrator would dream of such a thing. In a time of prosperity a finance minister, rejoicing in a margin, proposed to annually apply a million and a half to the construction of railways and canals for the protection of districts liable to scarcity, and to the reduction of the annual loans for public works. But times were not always prosperous, and the finance minister had to choose whether be would bang up the insurance scheme for a year or impose fresh taxation. When a farmer hasn’t got the little surplus he hoped to have for buying a new wagon and draining a low-lying field corner, you don’t accuse him of malversation, if he spends what he has on the necessary work of the rest of his farm.’
A clatter of hoofs was heard, and Orde looked up with vexation, but his brow cleared as a horseman halted under the porch.
‘Hello, Orde! just looked in to ask if you are coming to polo on Tuesday: we want you badly to help to crumple up the Krab Bokhar team.’
Orde explained that he had to go out into the District, and while the visitor complained that though good men wouldn’t play, duffers were always keen, and that his side would probably be beaten, Pagett rose to look at his mount, a red, lathered Biloch mare, with a curious lyre-like incurving of the ears. ‘Quite a little thoroughbred in all other respects,’ said the M.P., and Orde presented Mr. Reginald Burke, Manager of the Siad and Sialkote Bank to his friend.
‘Yes, she’s as good as they make ’em, and she’s all the female I possess and spoiled in consequence, aren’t you, old girl?’ said Burke, patting the mare’s glossy neck as she backed and plunged.
‘Mr. Pagett,’ said Orde, ‘has been asking me about the Congress. What is your opinion?’ Burke turned to the M.P. with a frank smile.
‘Well, if it’s all the same to you, sir, I should say, Damn the Congress, but then I’m no politician, but only a business man.’
‘You find it a tiresome subject?’
‘Yes, it’s all that, and worse than that, for this kind of agitation is anything but wholesome for the country.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘It would be a long job to explain, and Sara here won’t stand, but you know how sensitive capital is, and how timid investors are. All this sort of rot is likely to frighten them, and we can’t afford to frighten them. The passengers aboard an Ocean steamer don’t feel reassured when the ship’s way is stopped, and they hear the workmen’s hammers tinkering at the engines down below. The old Ark’s going on all right as she is, and only wants quiet and room to move. Them’s my sentiments, and those of some other people who have to do with money and business.’
‘Then you are a thick-and-thin supporter of the Government as it is.’
‘Why, no! The Indian Government is much too timid with its money—like an old maiden aunt of mine — always in a funk about her investments. They don’t spend half enough on railways for instance, and they are slow in a general way, and ought to be made to sit up in all that concerns the encouragement of private enterprise, and coaxing out into use the millions of capital that lie dormant in the country.’
The mare was dancing with impatience, and Burke was evidently anxious to be off, so the men wished him good-bye.
‘Who is your genial friend who condemns both Congress and Government in a breath?’ asked Pagett, with an amused smile.
‘Just now he is Reggie Burke, keener on polo than on anything else, but if you go to the Sind and Sialkote Bank to-morrow you would find Mr. Reginald Burke a very capable man of business, known and liked by an immense constituency North and South of this.’
‘Do you think he is right about the Government’s want of enterpnse?’
‘I should hesitate to say. Better consult the merchants and chambers of commerce in Cawnpore, Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta. But though these bodies would like, as Reggie puts it, to make Government sit up, it is an elementary consideration in governing a country like India, which must be administered for the benefit of the people at large, that the counsels of those who resort to it for the sake of making money should be judiciously weighed and not allowed to overpower the rest. They are welcome guests here, as a matter of course, but it has been found best to restrain their influence. Thus the rights of plantation laborers, factory operatives, and the like, have been protected, and the capitalist, eager to get on, has not always regarded Government action with favour. It is quite conceivable that under an elective system the commercial communities of the great towns might find means to secure majorities on labor questions and on financial matters.’
‘They would act at least with intelligence and consideration.’
‘Intelligence, yes; but as to consideration, who at the present moment most bitterly resents the tender solicitude of Lancashire for the welfare and protection of the Indian factory operative? English and native capitalists running cotton mills and factories.’
‘But is the solicitude of Lancashire in this matter entirely disinterested?’
‘It is no business of mine to say. I merely indicate an example of how a powerful commercial interest might hamper a Government intent in the first place on the larger interests of humanity.’
Orde broke off to listen a moment. ‘There’s Dr. Lathrop talking to my wife in the drawing-room,’ said he.
‘Surely not; that’s a lady’s voice, and if my ears don’t deceive me, an American.’
‘Exactly, Dr. Eva McCreery Lathrop, chief of the new Women’s Hospital here, and a very good fellow forbye. Good-morning, Doctor,’ he said, as a graceful figure came out on the veranda, ‘you seem to be in trouble. I hope Mrs. Orde was able to help you.’
‘Your wife is real kind and good, I always come to her when I’m in a fix but I fear it’s more than comforting I want.’
‘You work too hard and wear yourself out,’ said Orde, kindly. ‘Let me introduce my friend, Mr. Pagett, just fresh from home, and anxious to learn his India. You could tell him something of that more important half of which a mere man knows so little.’
‘Perhaps I could if I’d any heart to do it, but I’m in trouble, I’ve lost a case, a case that was doing well, through nothing in the world but inattention on the part of a nurse I had begun to trust. And when I spoke only a small piece of my mind she collapsed in a whining heap on the floor. It is hopeless.’
The men were silent, for the blue eyes of the lady doctor were dim. Recovering herself she looked up with a smile, half sad, half humorous, ‘And I am in a whining heap, too; but what phase of Indian life are you particularly interested in, sir?’
‘Mr. Pagett intends to study the political aspect of things and the possibility of bestowing electoral institutions on the people.’
‘Wouldn’t it be as much to the purpose to bestow point-lace collars on them? They need many things more urgently than votes. Why it’s like giving a bread-pill for a broken leg.’
‘Er—I don’t quite follow,’ said Pagett, uneasily.
‘Well, what’s the matter with this country is not in the least political, but an all round entanglement of physical, social, and moral evils and corruptions, all more or less due to the unnatural treatment of women. You can’t gather figs from thistles, and so long as the system of infant marriage, the prohibition of the remarriage of widows, the lifelong imprisonment of wives and mothers in a worse than penal confinement, and the withholding from them of any kind of education or treatment as rational beings continues, the country can’t advance a step. Half of it is morally dead, and worse than dead, and that’s just the half from which we have a right to look for the best impulses. It’s right here where the trouble is, and not in any political considerations whatsoever.’
‘But do they marry so early?’ said Pagett, vaguely.
‘The average age is seven, but thousands are married still earlier. One result is that girls of twelve and thirteen have to bear the burden of wifehood and motherhood, and, as might be expected, the rate of mortality both for mothers and children is terrible. Pauperism, domestic unhappiness, and a low state of health are only a few of the consequences of this. Then, when, as frequently happens, the boy-husband dies prematurely, his widow is condemned to worse than death. She may not re-marry, must live a secluded and despised life, a life so unnatural that she sometimes prefers suicide; more often she goes astray. You don’t know in England what such words as ‘infant-marriage, baby-wife, girl-mother, and virgin-widow’ mean; but they mean unspeakable horrors here.’
‘Well, but the advanced political party here will surely make it their business to advocate social reforms as well as political ones,’ said Pagett.
‘Very surely they will do no such thing,’ said the lady doctor, emphatically. ‘I wish I could make you understand. Why, even of the funds devoted to the Marchioness of Dufferin’s organization for medical aid to the women of India, it was said in print and in speech, that they would be better spent on more college scholarships for men. And in all the advanced parties’ talk — God forgive them — and in all their programmes, they carefully avoid all such subjects. They will talk about the protection of the cow, for that’s an ancient superstition — they can all understand that; but the protection of the women is a new and dangerous idea.’ She turned to Pagett impulsively:
‘You are a member of the English Parliament. Can you do nothing? The foundations of their life are rotten—utterly and bestially rotten. I could tell your wife things that I couldn’t tell you. I know the life—the inner life that belongs to the native, and I know nothing else; and believe me you might as well try to grow golden-rod in a mushroom-pit as to make anything of a people that are born and reared as these—these things’re. The men talk of their rights and privileges. I have seen the women that bear these very men, and again — may God forgive the men!’
Pagett’s eyes opened with a large wonder. Dr. Lathrop rose tempestuously.
‘I must be off to lecture,’ said she, ‘and I’m sorry that I can’t show you my hospitals; but you had better believe, sir, that it’s more necessary for India than all the elections in creation.’
‘That’s a woman with a mission, and no mistake,’ said Pagett, after a pause.
‘Yes; she believes in her work, and so do I,’ said Orde. ‘I’ve a notion that in the end it will be found that the most helpful work done for India in this generation was wrought by Lady Dufferin in drawing attention — what work that was, by the way, even with her husband’s great name to back it — to the needs of women here. In effect, native habits and beliefs are an organized conspiracy against the laws of health and happy life—but there is some dawning of hope now.’
‘How d’you account for the general indifferencc, then?’
‘I suppose it’s due in part to their fatalism and their utter indifference to all human suffering. How much do you imagine the great province of the Punjab with over twenty million people and half a score rich towns has contributed to the maintenance of civil dispensaries last year? About seven thousand rupees.’
‘That’s seven hundred pounds,’ said Pagett, quickly.
‘I wish it was,’ replied Orde; ‘but anyway, it’s an absurdly inadequate sum, and shows one of the blank sides of Oriental character.’
Pagett was silent for a long time. The question of direct and personal pain did not lie within his researches. He preferred to discuss the weightier matters of the law, and contented himself with murmuring: ‘They’ll do better later on.’ Then, with a rush, returning to his first thought:
‘But, my dear Orde, if it’s merely a class movement of a local and temporary character, how d’you account for Bradlaugh, who is at least a man of sense taking it up?’
‘I know nothing of the champion of the New Brahmins but what I see in the papers. I suppose there is something tempting in being hailed by a large assemblage as the representative of the aspirations of two hundred and fifty millions of people. Such a man looks ‘through all the roaring and the wreaths,’ and does not reflect that it is a false perspective, which, as a matter of fact, hides the real complex and manifold India from his gaze. He can scarcely be expected to distinguish between the ambitions of a new oligarchy and the real wants of the people of whom he knows nothing. But it’s strange that a professed Radical should come to be the chosen advocate of a movement which has for its aim the revival of an ancient tyranny. Shows how even Radicalism can fall into academic grooves and miss the essential truths of its own creed. Believe me, Pagett, to deal with India you want first-hand knowledge and experience. I wish he would come and live here for a couple of years or so.’
‘Is not this rather an ad hominem style of argument?’
‘Can’t help it in a case like this. Indeed, I am not sure you ought not to go further and weigh the whole character and quality and upbringing of the man. You must admit that the monumental complacency with which he trotted out his ingenious little Constitution for India showed a strange want of imagination and the sense of humour.’
‘No, I don’t quite admit it,’ said Pagett.
‘Well, you know him and I don’t, but that’s how it strikes a stranger.’ He turned on his heel and paced the veranda thoughtfully. ‘And, after all, the burden of the actual, daily unromantic toil falls on the shoulders of the men out here, and not on his own. He enjoys all the privileges of recommendation without responsibility, and we – well, perhaps, when you’ve seen a little more of India you’ll understand. To begin with, our death rate’s five times higher than yours — I speak now for the brutal bureaucrat — and we work on the refuse of worked-out cities and exhausted civilizations, among the bones of the dead.’
Pagett laughed. ‘That’s an epigrammatic way of putting it, Orde.’
‘Is it? Let’s see,’ said the Deputy Commissioner of Amara, striding into the sunshine toward a half-naked gardener potting roses. He took the man’s hoe, and went to a rain-scarped bank at the bottom of the garden.
‘Come here, Pagett,’ he said, and cut at the sun-baked soil. After three strokes there rolled from under the blade of the hoe the half of a clanking skeleton that settled at Pagett’s feet in an unseemly jumble of bones. The M.P. drew back.
‘Our houses are built on cemeteries,’ said Orde. ‘There are scores of thousands of graves within ten miles.’
Pagett was contemplating the skull with the awed fascination of a man who has but little to do with the dead. ‘India’s a very curious place,’ said he, after a pause.
‘Ah? You’ll know all about it in three months. Come in to lunch,’ said Orde.