Friday, May 08, 2009

Sketch of India

The Eclective Review ( page 523 ) published in 1821 reviews the book Sketches of India, written by an Officer for Fireside Travellers at Home ( also published 1821) that provided some colourful description of different types of ‘natives’ in Madras:

' These poor wretches, with no other clothing than small rags round the middle, and loads on their heads, whom you meet singly or in large groups, are the common coolies, or road-porters of the country ; for thus light burdens are usually conveyed here, even for distances of two or three hundred miles.—This haughty-looking man with a prominent nose, dark eye, and olive brown complexion, having a large turban, muslin vest, gaudy silk trowsers, and noisy slippers, is a Mahometan.

' This next, with his head hare and shaven, except a few thick-falling locks clubbed behind, his forehead marked with stripes of the ashes of cow-dung, his naked body, clean yellow-coloured skin, the zennaar, or distinguishing threads worn over the shoulder, and a large pale salmon-coloured loin-cloth, is an officiating bramin.

‘These fat-looking black men, with very white turbans and dresses, and large golden ear-rings, are dubashes; a sort of upper servants or public inferior agents, ready to make any purchases for strangers or residents; to execute their commissions, change their monies, or transact any business for them.

' These men with red turbans, broad shoulder-belts of leather, breast-plates, sashes and swordi, are government peons of the zillah, or police foot-soldiers. There are establishments of them in every district. They are distinguished by their belt plates ; the belts being often of red, blue, or yellow cloth, or even tiger-skin. .,

‘There is a group of native women returning to their houses with water : they are of a common class ; but observe their simple dress, erect carriage, and admirable walk. One piece of cloth wrapped twice round their loins in its breadth, and passing in its length upwards over the bosom, is either disposed mantle-like to cover the head, or thrown gracefully across the right shoulder, and brought under the left arm to the middle. Their shining hair is neatly rolled up into a knot at the back of the head; and is occasionally ornamented with little chaplets of pale yellow flowers. The vessels which some carry on the head, some on hip, are of brass or clay; but ancient, and urn- like in their form.

‘This low, curiously carved car, with a white canopy, and cream-' coloured bullocks, having their horns ornamentally tipped with wrought brass, collars with bells, and crimson body clothes, is the conveyance of some native merchant, or shroff.

‘These horsemen with red hussar jackets, high spherical-shaped caps of blue cloth richly ornamented, leather breeches, boots, and English saddles, so well mounted, and as light coloured as a* Spaniard*, are of the body-guard of the governor.—Observe the horse-keeper following that staff-officer; thus the groom runs after his master in this country, and will keep pace with him at a smart canter. He is always provided with a leading rein and chowrie.

‘These well-appointed black soldiers, clothed and attired like British troops, except the peculiar cap of blue doth with brazen ornaments and plates, are sepoys of the Madras establishment.

‘That officer in dark blue uniform with red facings, brazen helmet and red horse-hair, is of the Madras horse artillery; a corps most deservedly admired all-over India.'

‘ That monk with the pale Italian countenance, grey hair, small scull-cap, black robe, and white cords, just stepping out of that old palanquin, is the superior of the Capuchin convent at Madras : he is a native of Rome.

' This fine- looking young man in a close white vest with a dark blue sash and high cap of black velvet with many points, is an Armenian gentleman ; and the low stout man in a purple robe and mitre cap, with a long black bushy beard, who is speaking to him, is a priest from Armenia. Almost all these persons of half-cast complexion, whom you are continually meeting, are the descendants of our countrymen, or other Europeans, by native mothers ; those of Portuguese extraction are very numerous.

These restless-looking, haughty idlers, who are sauntering up to us, their little all expended on the fine robes they wear, save a frugal meal provided daily in their gloomy homes by trembling females or some wretched slave, would, but for our happier rule, be the petty tyrants of some of those peaceful villages we shall soon visit.

' The large man on the grey horse, with the shawl turban, gold- threaded sash and silver-headed creese (or dagger), to whom they are all now salaaming, is a .native of some distant province, not perhaps under our authority. The housings of his horse you see are embroidered with gold ; his reins silken ; the animal too has a breastplate and head ornaments of shell-work ; the servant running by his . side holds that spade-shaped screen so as always to shade his face ; and the man himself, though looking vain as well as proud, has a free, cheerful, self-satisfied air.—Not so this Moollah or Mahomedan priest. Mark his iron-grey beard and wrinkled forehead, and those fiercely sparkling eyes, alive and youthful with я feeling of hate. What an insolent vindictive look he casts at us. He recollects, for he was a young man then, when in the year 1780 the horse of Hyder rode shouting through the gardens of our countrymen ; and recollects that he wished them success.'

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