The Smith Administration

by Rudyard Kipling


A Letter from Golam Singh

From Golam Singh, Mistri, Landin, Belait, to Ram Singh, Mistri, son of Jeewun Singh, in the town of Rajah Jung, in the tehsil of Kasur, in the district of Lahore, in the Province of the Punjab.


Wah Gooroojee ki futteh.

CALL together now our friends and brothers, and our children and the Lambardar, to the big square by the well. Say that I, Golam Singh, have written you a letter across the Black Water, and let the town hear of the wonders which I have seen in Belait. Rutton Singh, the bunnia, who has been to Delhi, will tell you, my brother, that I am a liar; but I have witnesses of our faith, besides the others, who will attest when we return what I have written.

I have now been many days in Belait, in this big city. Though I were to write till my hand fell from my wrist, I could not state its bigness. I myself know that, to see one another, the Sahib-log, of whom there are crores of crores, use the railway dâk, which is laid not above the ground as is the Sirkar’s railway in our own country, but underneath it, below the houses. I have gone down myself into this rail together with the other witnesses. The air is very bad in those places, and this is why the Sahib-log have become white.

There are more people here than I have ever seen. Ten times as many as there are at Delhi, and they are all Sahibs who do us great honour. Many hundred Sahibs have been in our country, and they all speak to us, asking if we are pleased.

In this city the streets run for many miles in a straight line, and are so broad that four bullock-carts of four bullocks might stand side by side. At night they are lit with English lamps, which need no oil, but are fed by wind which burns. I and the others have seen this. By day sometimes the sun does not shine, and the city becomes black. Then these lamps are lit all day and men go to work.

The bazars are three times as large as our bazars, and the shopkeepers, who are all Sahibs, sit inside where they cannot be seen, but their name is written outside. There are no bunnias’ shops, and all the prices are written. If the price is high, it cannot be lowered; nor will the shopkeeper bargain at all. This is very strange. But I have witnesses.

One shop I have seen was twice as large as Rajah Jung. It held hundreds of shopkeeper-sahibs and memsahibs, and thousands who come to buy. The Sahib-log speak one talk when they purchase their bazar, and they make no noise.

There are no ekkas here, but there are yellow and green ticca-gharries bigger than Rutton Singh’s house, holding half a hundred people. The horses here are as big as elephants. I have seen no ponies, and there are no buffaloes.

It is not true that the Sahibs use the belaitee punkah (the thermantidote) like as you and I made for the Dipty Sahib two years ago. The air is cold, and there are neither coolies nor verandahs. Nor do the Sahibs drink belaitee panee (soda-water) when they are thirsty. They drink water—very clean and good—as we do.

In this city there are plains so vast that they appear like jungle; but when you have crossed them you come again to lakhs of houses, and there are houses on all sides. None of the houses are of mud or wood, but all are in brick or stone. Some have carved doors in stone, but the carving is very bad. Even the door of Rutton Singh’s house is better carved; but Rutton Singh’s house could be put into any fore-court of these belaitee houses. They are as big as mountains.

No one sleeps outside his house or in the road. This is thought shameless; but it is very strange to see. There are no flat roofs to the houses. They are all pointed; I have seen this and so have the others.

In this city there are so many carriages and horses in the street that a man, to cross over, must call a police-wallah, who puts up his hand, and the carriages stop. I swear to you by our father that on account of me, Golam Singh mistri, all the carriages of many streets have been stopped that I might cross like a Padshah. Let Rutton Singh know this.

In this city for four annas you may send news faster than the wind over four hundred kos. There are witnesses; and I have a paper of the Government showing that this is true.

In this city our honour is very great, and we have learned to shekand like the Sahib-logue. All the memsahibs, who are very beautiful, look at us, but we do not understand their talk. These memsahibs are like the memsahibs in our country.

In this city there are a hundred dances every night. The houses where they nautch hold many thousand people, and the nautch is so wonderful that I cannot describe it. The Sahibs are a wonderful people. They can make a sea upon dry land, and then a fire, and then a big fort with soldiers—all in half an hour while you look. The other men will say this too, for they also saw what I saw at one of the nautches.

Rutton Singh’s son, who has become a pleader, has said that the Sahibs are only men like us black men. This is a lie, for they know more than we know. I will tell. When we people left Bombay for Belait, we came upon the Black Water, which you cannot understand. For five days we saw only the water, as flat as a planed board with no marks on it. Yet the Captain Sahib in charge of the fire-boat said, from the first, ‘In five days we shall reach a little town, and in four more a big canal.’ These things happened as he had said, though there was nothing to point the road, and the little town was no bigger than the town of Lod. We came there by night, and yet the Captain Sahib knew! How, then, can Rutton Singh’s son say such lies? I have seen this city in which are crores of crores of people. There is no end to its houses and its shops, for I have never yet seen the open jungle. There is nothing hidden from these people. They can turn the night into day [I have seen it], and they never rest from working. It is true that they do not understand carpenter’s work, but all other things they understand, as I and the people with me have seen. They are no common people.

Bid our father’s widow see to my house and little Golam Singh’s mother; for I return in some months, and I have bought many wonderful things in this country, the like of which you have never seen. But your minds are ignorant, and you will say I am a liar. I shall, therefore, bring my witnesses to humble Rutton Singh, bunnia, who went to Delhi, and who is an owl and the son of an owl.